Jesse Sutanto has delivered a debut success with the most outlandish comedy adventure I’ve read this year, Dial A for Aunties. If you are prepared to suspend believability, this entertaining ‘Mad Mad Mad Mad World’ romp is delightful, with lots of comedic situations and witty dialogue, balanced with quite a few moments of mystery and suspense. One thing is for sure, the pace of the story makes it very difficult to put down.
Meddelin ‘Meddy’ Chan is the main protagonist, and she shares her life with her mother ‘Ma’ and her three aunts: ‘Big Aunt’, ‘Second Aunt’ and ‘Fourth Aunt’. In this Indonesian Chinese family, the extensive female and cultural demands are brandished at Meddy as a sense of duty. With a curse on the family that all the men leave, either through premature death or abandonment, her concern of finding a male partner and following her own dreams seem unlikely. While at university years earlier, Meddy met Nathan, and they fell madly in love, a connection that felt right until, upon graduation, Nathan found a job on the opposite coast of the US in New York. At the time, the only conceivable course of action for Meddy was to end the relationship and remain with her family. A family she wouldn’t abandon and a man she loved too much to suffer the curse.
The array of female characters is fascinating, each with authority dictated by age seniority. However, a daily battle of arguments, criticism and grievances exists while remaining loyal and unwavering in their support for each other. All the women have skills that flourish in their family business of providing wedding services such as hair & makeup, cake design and baking, entertainment, flower arrangements, and photography. Meddy is the wedding photographer, and it’s not the job she imagined spending her life doing, but the rut has set in, and she hasn’t even dated properly since Nathan. On a blind date arranged and manipulated by Ma, Meddy kills her date with a taser. In a panic, she bundles the body into her car and brings it home. The Aunties and Ma step up to help but considering they have a wedding to deliver, they take the body to the wedding on an exotic island, hoping to dispose of it while there. Yeah, that bit is totally believable – but the fun is in getting there. The next twist, which was also totally believable, ahem, was who should Meddy meet at the wedding but Nathan, the new owner and manager of this exquisite hotel.
Sutanto does a remarkable job weaving competitive family rivalries and superstition to derail various plans and create hilarious moments. The shifts in language between Mandarin, Cantonese, Indonesian, English, and even the use of emojis, provide the perfect opportunity for comic dialogue, with misinterpretations, insensitivity, and regular point-scoring. Elements of slapstick comedy are vividly drawn with laugh out loud scenes and antics.
If I were to be overly critical in my review of the novel, I would have issues concerning the believability, plot holes and the convenience of tying up the ending. However, if you can overlook those drawbacks, as I did for the most part, then you are rewarded with an adventure full of drama, some romance, mystery, a wonderful insight into family and cultural dynamics, comedy, and a journey of establishing one’s own place in life. This is a light-hearted read (minus the murder) that makes you feel good, and I’m up for that.
I read this book as a buddy read with my dear friend Sarah, and I have her to thank for winning us this book in a competition (it seems to be the only way I ever win competitions – when I don’t enter them). As always, Sarah is brilliant in discussing the book as we go, and it adds such a valuable bonus to the enjoyment. Sarah’s review is fantastic, and you can find it on the link below to her website ‘The Book’s Whiskers’. I would recommend this book, and I would like to thank HQ Books for providing me with a copy as a competition winner.