Kevin Kwan’s ‘Sex and Vanity’ Reminds Us That All That Glitters Is Truly Gold
Fresh off his Crazy Rich Asians success, Kwan returns with another preview that takes us to the balmy isle of Capri in Italy where the most-talked about wedding of the summer
The wedding of the summer is here and we are all in attendance from the four corners of our bedroom for now, as Kevin Kwan invites us to dip our noses into his latest tittle tattle tale Sex and Vanity, a love story helmed at the ropes with the glitz, glamour, six digit price tags and name-dropped digs that run on for more than a page.
Fresh off his Crazy Rich Asians success, Kwan returns with another preview that takes us to the balmy isle of Capri in Italy where the most-talked about wedding of the summer (wildly more extravagant than Colin Khoo’s and Araminta Lee, in terms of setting, don’t you think?) Is on the comeuppance. Lucie Tang Churchill, the story’s protagonist and a young ‘hapa’ (or half-Chinese, half-American) heiress to one of the richest families in America, is in attendance and joining this young protagonist is her slightly snooty cousin Charlotte Barclay who loved to toss around Lucie’s last name as much as she loved rooms with an ocean view.
But this comedy of manners also introduces another love story, and our sterling hero comes in the form of George Zao, an equally wealthy man among the swarming list of invitees at the wedding, and Lucie finds herself entranced that is suppressed more than shared, due to the fact that loving him would be the bane of her WASP-y family’s existence. But our young heroine’s feelings come head to head with her family reputation, so you may as well can predict the struggle she goes through with George throughout the novel.
What I like about Kwan’s stories is he gives them a fully-fleshed out background story, complete with the nuanced details. He divides the story into three sections, which has it beginning and ending in Capri. Another entry to the plot that shakes up Lucie and George’s love story is Cecil Pike, whom Lucie is engaged to five years after her rendezvous with George ends. Cecil is unlike his down-to-earth rival and is described as a ‘mocialite’ (male socialite) who bases his reputation off the grand lifestyle and is draped in more brand names than one can count, even refusing to wear a collared shirt made from Myanmar. No, he is not against fast fashion, he is against the fact that it was unbranded.
While I preferred his Crazy Rich Asians family map, one plot point in particular had me stand straight up in bed—it was in the shape of a small handwritten note, the content of which was from one of Pablo Neruda’s sonnets. Neruda was a favorite poet of George and he never failed to quote some lines almost every time he pops up in the story. I like the subtlety more than the grandeur in love stories, mostly because the diamond’s in the detail rather than showing and telling everything all at once.
This new novel also gives another excuse for Kwan’s snarky wit to lay on thick, an excuse that never goes out of style. Done in good measure, the core of his snappy one-liners sound like biting whispers in his footnotes, marked by asterisks that should never at all be missed. A lunch Charlotte had with Lucie, for example, had the former say, “Bring me some olio d’oliva and balsamico,” to which Kwan whispers in the footnotes, “Pretentious Italian for ‘olive oil’ and ‘balsamic vinegar,’ which by the way only Americans use to dip their bread in. Italians wouldn’t be caught dead doing anything like that.”
I imagined a lot of twirling, bare feet sinking in the sand and the crisp smell of the ocean breeze as I pored through the story. During a period where travel is but a dream, it was a calming respite to be tied up in an adventure, even if only vicarious for now. And as always, Kwan manages to insert cultural issues on race and heritage, especially in the family, except that the supposed Eleanor Young belief is more imagined than real, and I’m glad to see that nuance evolve in his storytelling.
It’s always great to read and witness Asian stories be told as they are in books or in films, and Kwan’s Crazy Rich Asians proves that all together. But his success is continuous, no doubt—Kwan announced just recently that this novel is going to be made into a film, and it’s another countdown I’m willing to participate in.
But for now, take yourself to Capri and pick up a copy at Fully Booked and National Bookstore branches nationwide.