Nights When Nothing Happened

Simon Han. Riverhead, $26 (272p) ISBN 978-0-593-08605-6
Han’s ambitious if mixed debut follows the travails of a Chinese immigrant family living in the wealthy Dallas suburb of Plano. Patty Cheng is the breadwinner, whose long hours designing microchips pulls her away from her photographer husband, Liang, and their two children, Jack and Annabel, 11 and five. On Thanksgiving Day in 2003, a misunderstanding leads to an accusation by Annabel’s best friend of a “bad touch” by Liang, which snowballs into more trouble for Liang involving the police after Liang and Jack neglect to set the record straight. The family’s survival is dependent on a slippery sense of identity and difficulty in belonging in the Texas suburb, which permeate the narrative amid other unfortunately underdeveloped themes (duty vs. love, genteel racism). Most of the characterizations are convincing, though Annabel, even in close third-person narration, comes across as overly precocious (“If Annabel could understand what an overreaction was, she could understand what an overreaction wasn’t”). Still, as Liang struggles through the consequences of the accusation, Han succeeds in drawing the portrait of a new American family while demonstrating a talent for creating a sense of place through the eyes of immigrants. The premise is intriguing, but Han doesn’t quite stick the landing. Agent: Samantha Shea, Georges Borchardt. (Nov.)
Reviewed on : 07/06/2020
Release date: 11/17/2020
Genre: Fiction
Book - 978-0-593-08607-0
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