Pop Culture Princess

Pop Culture Princess
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Monday, April 23, 2007

Free Food For Millionaires turns out to be a costly banquet for all to enjoy

Free Food For Millionaires is a multi-character novel,the kind of narrative that most folks associate with writers like George Eliot,William Makepeace Thackerary and Anthony Trollope. It's no wonder than that the main heroine of the book,Casey Han,loves to reread classics like Middlemarch and Jane Eyre. Casey's not a literary scholar,however. Our story begins in 1993,after Casey has just graduated from Princeton but doesn't yet have a major life goal(meaning,a big career path)in mind. After a violent argument with her father,Casey seeks comfort from her current boyfriend,Jay Currie,who has the worst timing in the world to be in the middle of cheating on her.

Casey winds up reconnecting with Ella Shim,an old school acquiantance,who is about to marry Ted Kim,an obnoxious banker. Thru Ella and Ted,Casey finds another boyfriend,Unu, who shares Casey's carelessness with money. Casey has a taste for the upper class lifestyle(one of her shopping weaknesses is for hats) but not the money for it. She gets herself into various forms of debt;not just credit cards and student loans(for when she decides to give business school a try)but emotional as well,to people like Sabine,who is determined to mold Casey into her heir apparent to take over her chic clothing store.

Some of the early reviews of FFFM have compared it to Vanity Fair and Middlemarch but I see some Edith Wharton influences here as well. As Wharton was fond of doing,Free Food goes into the ins and outs of New York social circles and the unspoken rules that let you go up or send you down the ladder of success. The Korean American community,with it's mix of old world manners and morals against the younger generation's more modern ideals ,is deftly portraited and adds to the fullness of the story.

Another strong point of the book is the depth and roundness given to every character,not allowing even ones like Ted(who eventually breaks Ella's heart)who could easily be cardboard cutout villians to do so or seemingly minor characters like Casey's mother,Leah,whose gentle nature and beautiful singing voice takes her down a unexpected path,to just hover in the background. All are allowed their strengths and foibles,not to mention their chance to grow and change in their perspectives.

This is Min Jin Lee's first novel and I have to say,this doesn't read like one at all. FFFM reads more like the work of a seasoned pro at the top of her game. If you're looking for a smart,clever and engaging novel,Free Food For Millionaires is your Golden Ticket,folks. The book is due in stores on May 22(please click on the title link above for more info) and it should become the thinking woman's beach book of 2007. If not,I may need to find a hat to eat! To spare me this search and to enrich your own reading experience,do give Free Food For Millionaires a taste. It's a very filling feast for the soul.

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