Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Terroryaki! by Jennifer K. Chung

by Jennifer K. Chung
3-Day Books, 2011
144 pages

The trouble with reading this while spending the day in bed with a flu-like bug is that it will make you hungry. It will make you very hungry, even though eating sends you into unpleasant spasms. You will not care about the spasms. You will just want to eat chicken teriyaki, preferably the soul-destroyingly good kind.

So, this is not a very scary book, and it's not a very deep book, but it is rather a lot of fun, and it was, aside from the hungry-making bit, the perfect read for a sick day. It doesn't make you think too hard and it moves along at a good clip. The humour is easy-going and the characters easy to like. The plot will not make you work hard, and the writing is good enough to keep this reader engaged, if not in love.

It is helpful to come in with a certain set of expectations, mind you: this is a book that was essentially written in three days. Did you know there was an International 3-Day Novel Contest? There is. And has been going on for a while - Terroryaki! was the winner of the 33rd annual contest. It is therefore a slender little offering, and while clearly polished up a bit, it does have a few rough edges. I learned about it from Pickle Me This, quite a while ago, and when the opportunity came for me to get hold of it, I took it.

Daisy is our first-person narrator, and she is a twenty-four-year-old slacker, a daughter of Taiwanese parents who wants to be an artist, but without much idea of how to get there, or how to break it to her family. She's also a foodie, a teriyaki connoisseur. Her overachieving elder sister Sam is getting married to a man whom their mother holds in the highest contempt, and the story is structured around the months and days leading up to the wedding. Throw in a mysterious, creepy teriyaki truck that appears and disappears on a whim, and a wedding planner straight out of a Norse epic, and some blog reviews of restaurants I desperately want to visit, and you have the cheerful, somewhat frenetic book that is Terroryaki!

The negatives: everything is out there on the surface, and some things don't quite make sense. There's a scene in a nail salon that makes absolutely no sense, and appears to have just been for laughs and to add a bit more mystery around the teriyaki truck, but it didn't really do either for me, particularly as the followup to the scene just confused things a bit more. The relationship that develops between Daisy and the teriyaki truck guy is kind of ... baffling, in that it didn't really get developed so much as assumed. Also, the teriyaki truck guy talks in such an odd cadence and it felt painfully artificial, even in a book that is pretty silly.

The positives, which in the end outweigh those negatives for me: the food, the humour, the family (particularly the dynamic between Daisy and her dad) and the fact that silly or not, things work to create an entertaining story. But especially the food. As I mentioned, Daisy is a foodie, and she blogs about her favourite (and not-so-favourite) restaurants, and we are treated to a sampling of her blog entries. (And no, they don't really have much to do with the plot, except that they allow for a bit more character development of Patrick, Sam's fiancee, than the rest of the book could squeeze in; this is okay, as they are humourous and delicious.) Daisy's got a good sense of how to be entertaining without being nasty, which is a good thing in a restaurant review. She's also enthusiastic, which is also key. And her good reviews make me want to eat the food she's talking about, badly. She also talks lovingly about the art of teriyaki right in the text, and about other foods too.

A sidenote, but worth noting: the production quality of this little gem is quite impressive. The cover is perfect, the paper weight is lovely, and the watermarks on the first pages of each chapter actually really add to the experience of the book, for some reason. The blogging sections are different enough but not gimmicky. This was a nice book to hold in the hand and to look at.

Something a little different, something a little fun, something a lot tasty. Recommended if you have an afternoon to spare and need something to take your mind off anything but your stomach.

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