One of the funniest books of the year has arrived, a delicious, ambitious Hollywood satire ... This stripped-down format is the perfect delivery system for the satire of Interior Chinatown. Ridiculous assumptions pop ... While sticking to the screenplay form, Yu bends it enough to go deeper — long descriptive passages become mini short stories ... Like Rosencrantz and Guildenstern from Tom Stoppard’s famous play, the characters see and comment on the artifice of their creation ... It’s mind-bending storytelling, not easy to pull off. Yu does it with panache.
Charles Yu specializes in ferreting out that peculiar angle, that spark of the unexpected, that re-illumination of an otherwise age-old narrative, and then taking that fantastical story element and spreading it horizontally until it coats the entirety of his writing’s universe ... It’s speculative in its surreal setting. It’s family drama in the centrality of family relationships. It’s satire in its political and social commentary. It’s comedic. It’s literary. It’s weird and experimental. It’s an identity story couched in a kind of a fantasy setting, a kind of a George Saundersesque alternate reality. It’s all of those things, but maybe mostly, it’s allegory. And Yu does allegory as well as anybody, taking an outrageous concept and using it to communicate the dire mundanity and the resonant emotional struggles of the human experience ... What does it all mean? And in this case, Yu’s novel answers in a refreshingly accessible way. Despite the mind-bending premise, Yu takes special care to present his themes of Asian-American identity straightforwardly within the novel’s narrative. In doing so, Yu’s writing adeptly straddles the border between storytelling and Asian-American Studies seminar ... All told, Yu is most successful when both the artistic and political conceits act as an entryway to his presentation of the human condition. We are compelled by the socio-racial commentary, and we’re delighted and amused by the form and setting. The details meticulously crafted, render a universe that feels complete to the touch ... Against the backdrop of this experiential normalcy, Yu tells us about ourselves with his haunting depictions of the immigrant experience, familial relationships, and the abiding desire to break from the pressures of conformity and live an authentic life.
Charles Yu was a story editor for Westworld, and his bracingly metafictive second novel, Interior Chinatown, takes the theme of social roles beautifully sideways. The novel skewers pop-culture stereotypes of Asian Americans and contends, memorably, with assimilation ... Arranged in acts and told in the second person in the form of a screenplay, Interior Chinatown is bold, even groundbreaking, in its form. It’s full of clever wordplay and in-jokes about the Chinese American experience ... Interior Chinatown solders together mordant wit and melancholic whimsy to produce a moving exploration of race and assimilation that shouldn’t be missed by intellectually adventurous readers.
... a bravura metaphysical rumination written in the form of a television screenplay ... Yu throws his stereotypes in all directions. Labels and pigeonholes abound, crossing both cultures and generations ... Yu freely weaves satire with social commentary, speculative fiction with identity politics. Without leaving its fantasy world, the story often turns bracingly real. Though much of his protagonist’s insecurities are narrowly focused—not just Asian, but specifically Asian American—his accumulation of concerns becomes surprisingly and relatably inclusive ... Yu also freely constructs discursive rambles that deftly conflate a simple image with, well, a finely rendered backstory.
... funny and surreal ... Willis embodies the ambient anxiety of lacking an explicit identity—Asian Americans take up what Cathy Park Hong calls 'apologetic space'—which Yu gestures toward humorously in these ironic naming choices ... There’s a gentle brush of sarcasm in Yu’s portrayal of Chinatown’s ambient sights and noises, possibly a backhanded skewering of how its residents are typically depicted, nameless and generic, both noisy and easily blocked out. Other scenes are more threadbare, and take place in silence ... Tightly intertwined with poverty is sickness, a theme that Yu threads through the novel in ways that are so visceral and upsetting that I had to pause my reading at points ... I’m sad to say that the haunting, gorgeous affect of the novel’s first two-thirds transitions into a noticeably limper final act.
As Yu warps and blurs the line between life and scripted entertainment, he makes it painfully clear that for the average Asian dude, the entertainment world is no different from the real world when it comes to humiliating assumptions and glass ceilings ... Yu has a devilish good time poking fun at the racially blinkered ways of Hollywood ... Yu slips and slides between stage directions and straight prose in the latter half of the novel as an honest-to-goodness narrative emerges ... Down the stretch, Yu gets polemic, rushing us through a whirlwind summation of documented injustices against Asian Americans, questioning whether there is any chance of winning a game that's been rigged from the start. It's a bit of a comedown after the spicy satire that's gone before ... if Interior Chinatown boils down to a series of humorous poses in search of a story, it's still rollicking fun, and its reclamation of Asian American history, with all its attendant sorrows and hopes, holds out the possibility of a new, true story ahead.
... even though the book is funny, clever, fast-paced, and sharp, what makes it work is this bleak truth: our hero is not a hero. He has no story of his own, and the book will not bend to the usual cheesy tricks of redemption.
The novel...is a caustic, absurd and endearing exploration of Asian American stereotypes, police procedurals and the immigrant experience ... In Yu's playful mixture of formats, including montages and a children's show, lines blur between Willis's thoughts and the show's dialogue. Readers will often find themselves unable to tell reality from television, which is Yu's point in a nutshell ... In a passionate and clever ending that parodies television courtroom dramas while offering a brief history of anti-Asian discrimination in the U.S., Yu shows that sometimes the only way out of a prescribed narrative is to beat it at its own game. Leading with laughs but sneaking in a dose of wrenching irony, Yu's format-bending, deeply felt examination of the American dream is an exercise in encouraged empathy that will hold readers' hearts right up to its brilliant finale.
At first comedic and satiric, it becomes somber as we are met with a scathing social commentary on immigration and assimilation in the new world for those seeking to start over. This theme subtly underlies the storyline through Yu’s unique lens ... I was laughing out loud ... Interior Chinatown is...a poignant story. It embraces the austerity of the life of immigrants in Chinatown, or the hundreds of other places in America where people of all ages and ethnicity arrive, full of hope. Their dreams of making a new life have their own stark but beautiful promise.
In these blocks of prose, Interior Chinatown reveals itself to be a stunning novel about identity, race, societal expectations, and crippling anxiety told with humor and affection and a deep understanding of human nature ... Yu's knowledge of the inner workings of the entertainment world raises Interior Chinatown<./em> to the level of sly satire.
Resembling a script, complete with a classic typewriter font, Yu’s tale ingeniously draws on real-life Hollywood dead ends for Asian American actors, including, quite possibly, Kelvin Yu, the author’s younger brother. As preposterous as many scenes may seem, their sobering reality will resonate with savvy readers.
The inspired author of How To Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe (2010) delivers another inventive drama about an Asian actor who dreams of becoming a star ... The book could have ended more straightforwardly but the author couldn’t resist an elegant twist, merging Willis’ increasingly complicated emotional life with the plot of the show. As it all comes to a close, the author delivers a bittersweet yet affectionate ending for his endearing, unlikely doppelgänger. An acid indictment of Asian stereotypes and a parable for outcasts feeling invisible in this fast-moving world.