Saturday, August 24, 2019

Book Review: "Permanent Record" by Mary H.K. Choi

Pablo Neruda Rind, or Pab for short, is a somewhat-rudderless, half-Korean, half-Pakistani college dropout with a mound of credit card debt. He works the graveyard shift at a 24-hour upscale bodega in Brooklyn and spends a good deal of time wondering what to do with his future.

Should he reapply to NYU despite not being able to afford it (much less afford his rent)? Should he get a job? Should he move back in with his mother, who hasn't yet forgiven him for dropping out?

All of the questions about the path he should take, coupled with the letters and phone calls from bill collectors, tend to overwhelm him. He tries to content himself with inventing unique snack combinations for his Instagram feed. (Snack foods are his jam.) He also is trying to figure out how to navigate his relationships with his tiger mother and his laissez-faire father.

And then one winter morning at 5:00 a.m. during one of Pab's bodega shifts, she walks in. Leanna Smart—former child star who transitioned to pop star and social media celebrity—shows up in his store. Alone. No entourage. But she does accumulate an impressive supply of snacks.

The two trade jokes, roll their eyes at the world, and flirt. This is a relationship destined to go nowhere because they couldn't come from two more different worlds. But they can't resist each other. So they take a leap, which leads them on a journey that is at once spontaneous, magical, emotional, and fraught with trouble.

Permanent Record is funny, poignant, thought-provoking, and a little ridiculous, but it's an insightful commentary on our celebrity- and social media-obsessed culture, and how difficult it is to let someone see your true self. This book started a little slow but definitely picked up steam as it went on.

Mary H.K. Choi's first book, Emergency Contact, was one of the best books I read last year. She has such an ear for dialogue and while the characters here are tremendously erudite, sarcastic, and whip-smart, it works for the book considering who the characters are. I also felt that while some of the situations that occurred were silly the relationships between Pab and his family seemed genuine.

The characters are fun and you root for them, and at the same time, you want to smack them when they're acting like idiots. Pab isn't really very sympathetic through a good portion of the book and his near-total paralysis toward his future and the financial situation he's in, as well as the way he treats people really wore on me a bit.

Choi is a tremendously talented writer, and while Permanent Record didn't quite wow me as her first book did, I really enjoyed it, and read most of it on a long flight. She remains one of the authors whose work I'm most excited to follow.

Simon & Schuster provided an advance copy of the book in exchange for an unbiased review. Thanks for making it available!

This book publishes September 3, 2019.

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