Number One Chinese Restaurant isn't really the book I thought it was going to be, and that's not necessarily a bad thing. I was expecting a slice of life account and while I sort of got that, I wasn't expecting a story about crime and regret either. This story was borderline depressing to me, and while the writing is fine, the story itself was not my favorite.
The story centers around Jimmy, the second son of an immigrant restaurateur who has taken over The Duck House in suburban Maryland. The problem is Jimmy has bigger dreams, and wants to open a glittering new Asian fusion restaurant on the waterfront. How to unload The Duck House? Well, the answer may surprise. Jimmy gets tangled up in an organized crime figure who's been around the family for years, and he has to deal with his brother Johnny as well, who's a little more with it than he is but has become uninvolved in the day-to-day restaurant business.
Some of the other perspectives here are Nan the manager who runs the place but is caught up in a relationship with one of the waiters, Ah-Jack the aforementioned waiter who happens to have a wife who is leaving him, Pat the asshole son of Nan who gets in over his head, Annie the daughter of Johnny who gets mixed up with Pat, and frankly? I didn't like any of these people. Maybe Nan. Everyone else irritated me to no end. Jimmy is terrible and shortsighted, and his moral compass is iffy to say the least, and the others aren't much better. The only person I really liked at all was Jimmy's mother Feng Fei- she was sarcastic and always bitching at her sons, but she was the only one who was funny.
We do get a look behind the scenes of a Chinese restaurant, which I was hoping for, but considering the subject matter we don't get that much- in fact a surprising amount of this book takes place outside the restaurant. And a lot of the story is people scheming, second-guessing one another, and generally being vapid. I had to skim at times and considered DNF'ing once or twice, but I finished. The ending was lacking for me as much as the rest of the book- I just didn't really feel for any of these characters, none of them came alive for me at all.
They're all downers, and I learned more than I needed to about Ah-Jack's aging body and his confused feelings about his wife, or Jimmy's erratic feelings for his real estate agent who uses him- at one point Jimmy drives while intoxicated and I was hoping he'd hit a tree. At least the matriarch of the clan provides occasional comic relief, and while I think the writing is fine, this is a story I just couldn't connect with.