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Family Trust

Review

Family Trust

There's nothing like the specter of an inheritance to bring old family resentments to life, as the Huang family discovers in Kathy Wang's funny and perceptive debut, FAMILY TRUST, a multigenerational saga about a family of Taiwanese immigrants in Silicon Valley.

On the surface, the Huangs are the quintessential American success story. Parents Stanley and Linda emigrated from Taiwan and painstakingly built a new life in the Bay Area. Their children, Fred and Kate, have lives and careers many would envy --- he in venture capital, she at a prominent tech company, with the six-figure salaries to match. But beneath the slick facade is an extended family rife with secrets, resentments and insecurities.

The book opens with Stanley's diagnosis of pancreatic cancer. As the family grapples with his looming death, they also wonder what will become of the millions he claims to have amassed over the years. Ex-wife Linda wants Stanley to do right by her children, worried that his “dementedly placid” new wife Mary, a recent immigrant from mainland China, will make off with the money. Fred starts dreaming of real estate, while mom-of-two Kate considers how $1 or $2 million would help her husband's floundering startup. Mary, a former waitress and masseuse, thinks the cash could buy her freedom and permanent access to the good life. To the Huang children, she’s little more than a gold digger, but like most characters in this novel, she’s more than what she appears at first glance. Mary is both Stanley’s dedicated caregiver and a canny second wife who has learned that “success in America was less about what you earned than your particular luck on the day you decided to take it for yourself.”

"Everyone --- Stanley most of all --- is putting on a face, presenting the self they most believe the world wants to see. Watching them slowly come face to face with their own delusions is sobering, but also immensely entertaining."

The self-important culture of Silicon Valley is ripe for skewering, and Wang has crafted a precise, cutting comedy of manners that exposes the less-than-savory underbelly of the world’s tech capital. She has an eye for the details that separate the strivers from those who have already made it, from a person’s address to where they shop for groceries to the make of their car, as well as the way people try to fake it until they’ve made it. Fred may drive a decade-old BMW rather than a Tesla, but he’s managed to convince his grasping girlfriend Erika, a Hungarian immigrant and jewelry saleswoman at Saks, that he’s a high-flying dealmaker. But Erika, who has amassed a collection of business cards from elite customers and has a luxury wardrobe bought on double-discount days, has begun to realize that he might not be the VC rainmaker he claims to be.

Much of the drama in FAMILY TRUST hinges on the complex relationships between men and women, especially men who are desperate to be seen as successful and the women who put up with their posturing. Kate, who’s been suffering through a less-than-satisfying job to support her husband’s dreams, has a disturbing encounter at a tech trade show, where she’s reminded that she lives in a world “filled with violent, thin-skinned men who behaved only when the threat of exposure was dangled above them…furious at a world they felt had slotted them in the wrong place.” Her revenge on the loutish startup guy who assaults her is particularly sweet. It seems that she finally has learned a lesson from her mother, the poised, steely Huang family matriarch, who spent years enduring Stanley’s erratic, abusive behavior before finally walking away and building a life --- and a fortune --- of her own.

Wang’s characters inhabit a world where success seems to be just one smart deal or clever stock pick away. Most are engaged in a never-ending game of one-upmanship while also fretting that their chance at success has already passed them by. In a cringeworthy scene, Kate's husband Denny, with a practiced air of nonchalance, regales Erika with the story of how he turned down a job as the ninth engineer at Google. For Denny, this was the turning point in his life, the moment when he had everything in his grasp but let it slip away. But perhaps Denny has it all wrong, and life isn't really about those big mistakes people tend to stew over. As Linda observes, “there were no single, seminal moves that completely altered the course of one's destiny. Instead, life just seemed to be a series of small mistakes, which you continued to make over and over again.”

The Huangs have made plenty of those small mistakes, which makes them delightfully human. Their lives are messy and complicated, as each chases his or her own version of the American Dream. Everyone --- Stanley most of all --- is putting on a face, presenting the self they most believe the world wants to see. Watching them slowly come face to face with their own delusions is sobering, but also immensely entertaining.

Reviewed by Megan Elliott on November 2, 2018

Family Trust
by Kathy Wang

  • Publication Date: October 30, 2018
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Hardcover: 400 pages
  • Publisher: William Morrow
  • ISBN-10: 0062855255
  • ISBN-13: 9780062855251