cover image The Wedding Party

The Wedding Party

Liu Xinwu, trans. from the Mandarin by Jeremy Tiang. Amazon Crossing, $24.95 (400p) ISBN 978-1-5420-3120-2

Short story writer and essayist Liu's impressive U.S. debut centers on a day in December 1982 and the residents of a historical residence in Beijing. Superstitious Auntie Xue, who's obsessed with keeping up appearances, is throwing a wedding banquet with her husband for their youngest son, Jiyue, and his bride, Xiuya. Tensions rise as Jiyue's boorish friend Luo Baosang gets drunk and picks on the talented but low-birth chef Lu Xichun. Long-suffering but dutiful daughter-in-law Zhaoying tries to make things run smoothly, even as her husband is late to arrive. Visitors and wedding crashers stop by throughout the day, and the author does a fantastic job of unfurling each character's inner life, as well as the backstories and motivations of other residents. Some people, for instance, find it odd that Lu Xichun turns down a free teapot. (The heart-wrenching reason is revealed later.) Even minor characters elicit empathy when their decisions cause disaster. Reminders of the recent Gang of Four regime, during which people were publicly humiliated and punished for minor faults, are always present, and Liu seamlessly works this legacy into the narrative. This glimpse of the recent past is a treat. (Nov.)