REVIEW: Short Soup by Coleen Kwan
“A story about best friends, childhood dreams, and the healing power of Chinese food…
Toni Lau and Dion Chan were connected from birth — first via their parents’ jointly-owned restaurant, then via their bone-deep friendship. But children grow up, and Toni leaves their sleepy hometown looking for more than it can offer.
Now Toni is back, raw with the knowledge that not all childhood dreams come true. Dion is on the brink of realising that both his own ambitions and his childhood friend have the power to derail all of his hard work. But loving Toni — and winning her love in return — has always been on his wish list. Can Dion really put her on the back burner while frying up his chef dreams? Or is it possible that together they can come up with a recipe for happiness?”
Dear Ms. Kwan,
Some readers might ask “What is short soup?” Well, I know it as wonton soup and it’s my favorite. The blurb with the mention of Chinese food – one of my favorite cuisines – caught my eye. I wanted to read this because it’s a multicultural book of Chinese families set in Australia. Thankfully there are lots of cultural elements included which make the MC aspect of the book more than pretty wallpaper: the hard working parents, their emphasis on education for their children, parents who aren’t wild about their children having premarital sex, and a father who annoys his son by questioning how Dion runs the restaurant and not being willing to let it go, as well as the difference between Dion and Toni’s experiences as second generation Australians vs their parents.
The restaurant is central to their lives so it makes sense that there are several scenes there. The food sounds wonderful but I would have enjoyed more time spent watching Dion at work both cooking and managing. Ditto Toni and her profession as a CPA but I guess some aspects of their lives couldn’t be covered in a novella.
The change in their realization of their feelings for each other is handled well. We see the dawning of Toni’s appreciation for how Dion has filled out and matured and her initial confusion about these thoughts. She’s thinking about her friend this way? The boy she used to be dumped in a bathtub with until they were six? Well, if he’s as hot as Dion, I guess so! Still she questions herself, both about her feelings for Dion and about being attracted to any man so soon after her divorce from the Toe Rag she married. I like that she wants to be sure. Ditto that Dion feels the same.
Dion has known his developing feelings for Toni for far longer but felt he lost his chance when she married Mr. T.R. Now he’s not going to lose out again. The scene where he brings her to his house and they make love the first time shows how much time and thought he’s put into making this first time express all that he feels for her. He does act like a dick at one point when he’s frustrated by how things are going between them but quickly realizes it and shapes up. After that, he asks to try and set things straight between them – which meant a lot to me – and then does so. He wants Toni to be sure and reach for her professional dreams first so she won’t feel she’s lost out on them. Dion really is a sweet guy who has made past mistakes but taken responsibility for them and changed his life around.
What really worked for me is the feeling of long term friendship between Toni and Dion. The excerpt you provided shows this beautifully in the almost short hand communication between Toni and Dion over the garish shirt his mother bought him – how she knows what he feels about it and how easily the communication flows – just like people who’ve known each other for years and feel comfortable. I kind of felt cheated that I didn’t get to see the wedding or their mothers fussing over the wedding but again the length probably precluded this.
For most of it, this is a nice story about a sweet but deep love between two people who – by the end – seem sure about it and themselves. But the short length felt truncated in places, especially the epilogue. Some pretty major events occur in it that only get mentioned in passing. I felt the epilogue actually raised more issues for me than it answered and because of this my grade is a B-.