Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Book Review: "Love Love" by Sung J. Woo

Sometimes you read a book you know very little about, and it utterly surprises you. That was the case with Sung J. Woo's Love Love, a moving, thought-provoking, endearing, and slightly zany novel about two siblings whose lives aren't quite going the way they planned—and every step they take seems to throw them another curve.

Judy Lee is, to put it mildly, unhappy. She hasn't pursued a relationship since her marriage ended, she hasn't forgiven her father for her mother's death, she has no career prospects, and she doesn't know what she's going to do with the rest of her life. And when she meets a new man she might be interested in, he's a little more complicated than most, plus he may or may not have been a member of the Japanese Yakuza gang at some point.

"Everyone else she knew was doing productive things like buying bigger houses, raising smart kids, getting promotions. And here she was, a temp at age thirty-eight, with no husband, no house, no job, nothing. She knew she should be concerned, and to some degree she was, but whenever she fully recognized her utter lack of everything, the sheer emptiness of her life filled her up, leaving no room in her heart to even feel scared."

The only constant in Judy's life has been her older brother, Kevin. But Kevin has more than enough problems of his own. His career as a professional tennis player never really hit its stride, he's still mourning the end of his marriage, and he's just had one heck of a bombshell—after preparing to donate one of his kidneys to their dying father, he learns he isn't a genetic match. That's right, he's adopted, and he's finding this out for the first time at age 40, and all his father can give him is a nude picture of his birth mother from the 1970s.

Love Love is about trying to cope and move forward when nothing in your life seems to be going right, and when every possibility turns up more chaos than you expected. It's the story of two siblings trying to decide whether to wallow in their misery or take control of their lives when they seem utterly, completely out of control on all fronts. It's also an interesting meditation on how we choose to live our lives, on the difference between selfishness and independence, and how much of a role fate plays in the choices we make.

I found this book utterly endearing and enjoyable. I really liked both Judy and Kevin's characters, and found many of the supporting characters to be so much more fascinating and complex than I imagined. At times things happen as you expect they will, at times Woo really throws some crazy twists into his story, and while it makes the book a little quirkier than I imagined it would be, it also makes it more entertaining. Woo is a terrific storyteller and you can tell that he cares about his characters, which makes you care about them, too.

What a pleasant surprise this was! Nothing like some good family and relationship dysfunction to entertain you.

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