Dial A for Aunties
When Meddelin Chan ends up accidentally killing her blind date, her meddlesome mother calls for her even more meddlesome aunties to help get rid of the body. Unfortunately, a dead body proves to be a lot more challenging to dispose of than one might anticipate, especially when it is accidentally shipped in a cake cooler to the over-the-top billionaire wedding Meddy, her Ma, and aunties are working, at an island resort on the California coastline. It’s the biggest job yet for their family wedding business—“Don’t leave your big day to chance, leave it to the Chans!”—and nothing, not even an unsavory corpse, will get in the way of her auntie’s perfect buttercream cake flowers.
But things go from inconvenient to downright torturous when Meddy’s great college love—and biggest heartbreak—makes a surprise appearance amid the wedding chaos. Is it possible to escape murder charges, charm her ex back into her life, and pull off a stunning wedding all in one weekend?
AAR reviewers Em and Maggie read Jesse Sutanto’s début rom-com Dial A for Aunties, then together to discuss the novel, and are here to share their thoughts.
EW: Early, glowing reviews led me to Dial A for Aunties, but when I also discovered it’s been touted as the next Crazy Rich Asians, I was wary. I was burned by that comparison before (Last Tang Standing). But Dial A for Aunties is SO MUCH BETTER than both of those books! With a bonkers premise and a story that only gets more ridiculous as it unfolds, Dial A for Aunties is hilarious and absurd – it’s also romantic and heartwarming. I loved every bit of it. What did you think?
MB: I don’t know that those comparisons are quite apt. Crazy Rich Asians was a cultural exploration which had a lot more depth than you will find in this novel. On the other hand, I would completely agree that the premise for Dial A for Aunties is bonkers and the story only gets more ridiculous as it moves forward.
Regarding it being romantic and heartwarming, I can get on board with the heartwarming. The author does a wonderful job of capturing the loving, bickering mess that is a close family and Meddy, her Ma and her aunties are just so sweet together. I have to say I was disappointed in the romance, though. The story’s emphasis seemed to be on the hilarity caused by Meddy and the aunties’ inept handling of their Weekend at Bernies style situation, and while Nathan comes across as very caring and supportive of Meddy, I had no idea why he loved her or why she loved him. Their on-page time together definitely makes up less than half the book, which rarely works for me in a romance.
EW: I’m not a Weekend at Bernies fan, but I see the similarities. I happily immersed myself in Sutanto’s fictional world and perhaps it made me more forgiving of the more ridiculous plot developments.
I looked forward to every scene that featured Meddy and Nathan and I didn’t miss their backstory. I just reveled in their long-standing love for each other and I rooted for them to reconcile. I was so engrossed in the shenanigans related to the dead body, I didn’t miss the lack of romance.
I’m curious if you read the author’s note at the beginning of the novel? In it, Sutanto discusses her background and how it influenced her characterization of the aunties in this story
Some of the aunties in Dial A for Aunties speak the sort of broken English that my parents’ generation does. Their grasp of the English language is not a reflection of their intelligence, but a reflection of the sacrifice that they have made for us. They are, in essence, trilingual, and I am so proud of this heritage. I’m aware while writing this that I’m straddling a very fine line between authenticity and stereotype, and it’s my hope that this book defies the latter.
I thought this was eloquent and honest, and more importantly, it positively influenced how I read and interpreted these characters after meeting them in the story. Sutanto successfully straddles the line between authenticity and stereotype; all of the aunties – and our heroine, Meddelin (a delightfully terrible misspelling of the name Madeleine) – feel very authentic to me.
MB: I think she strikes the right balance with that aspect of the novel. Many first generation immigrants speak this way and it is a testament to their intelligence and strength of will that they are able to come to a new country, learn an entirely different language, and successfully get jobs and raise families here. I think the author does a superb job of showcasing how genuinely amazing the aunties are.
However, while I thought she didn’t stereotype them, I did feel she stereotyped several other characters in the novel. Most glaring was the small town bumpkin/idiot sheriff caricature she used.
EW: Yeah, I didn’t really get that character either. Country bumpkin or just a doofus? He’s not the only secondary character whose execution was clunky. The bride and groom are also an odd pairing. I know there needs to be a wedding (and the traditions and customs are fascinating), but the groom is so awful it’s almost overkill and then there’s the secondary plot involving the maid of honor. I could never reconcile the character to her actions.
MB: I agree that the traditions and customs were totally fascinating. I loved the veiling ceremony and the tea ceremony, and thought those details were really nice touches which gave the novel a unique flair. I didn’t see the twist involving the gifts and maid of honor coming at all and would agree it was random and rather distracting. I found the whole scenario with the groom and groomsmen part of the over the top nature of the plot. The explanation for some of the behaviors could have been a lot simpler and worked better, I think. Subtle is not at all a part of this author’s style.
EW: Based on the book blurb, I expected the murder of the blind date – the event that kicks off the story – to be some silly mix-up. It isn’t. Were you surprised by the sequence of events that led up to the death?
MB: I was surprised by the whole blind date murder scene, but, the difficulty I had with it was that it strikes an oddly serious/sinister note in a book that is otherwise strongly comedic. Meddy goes on this date set up by her mom, the guy turns out to be a complete bore and she drinks to distract herself and can’t drive home. He insists on driving her car, and then proceeds to put his hand on her knee and drive them through a dark deserted area. She wants him to stop and get himself an uber, he insists on going on and makes it sound like sex is still on the table. In fairness, they were in the middle of nowhere so it’s conceivable he wanted to arrive somewhere he could catch a ride. It’s also possible rape was the next step but we don’t really know because we never got there. It was for the possibility of what might come next that she winds up murdering him and I had to agree with her when she said later in the novel, “The poor guy, he was a shit but he didn’t deserve to die like that”.
EW: Meddy makes it clear she wants him to take her back to her car and that she’s uncomfortable with what’s happening. She doesn’t know where she is, and it’s dark and desolate. I felt a palpable sense of fear for what might happen to her.
MB: I can understand that. The general vibe of the novel – and knowing from the book’s blurb what was going to happen – kept me from worrying very much about how that scenario was going to play out.
EW: And then afterwards, when you read the secret text exchange between her mother and the victim (Meddy’s mom pretended to be her on a dating site), did you laugh out loud? And cringe? Oh my god I thought it was so funny and brilliant.
MB: The text message scenario plays into that a bit since it was such a piece of what you referred to as the ridiculousness of the novel. They were so over the top, slapstick silly that they felt like a wink and a nod reminding us not to take anything we were reading seriously.
Part of the whole murder scenario is that the outcome would have been drastically affected by a simple phone call to 911. I have to admit that bothered me quite a bit. I realize that the story is meant to be light and funny, but I thought it said something about Meddy that she could admit he didn’t deserve what happened and still feel totally entitled to getting away with it. Did that upset you, too, or did you feel she was justified in her actions?
EW: I think she was in shock and could forgive her for it. I don’t want to spoil the story, but her lack of action here versus what happened the following morning bothered me more. That suggested a callousness that the author is constantly trying to pretend doesn’t exist.
MB: Yes, that’s the part that bothered me, too – and there were a lot of subsequent choices she made which could have been more responsible, compassionate and ethical and she doesn’t make them that way.
EW: What did you like about the novel?
MB: I loved the glimpses of Asian culture, and I really did adore the way the author captures the familial relationships between Meddy, her aunts and her mother; Sutanto does a near perfect job of depicting how messy, nosy, noisy, supportive, generous and loving these connections are, especially when everyone is so close-knit. The aunts and their fights for dominance and approval are hilarious! In these portions of the book the humor is less over-the-top and more genial and mischievous. The author captures Meddy’s dilemma regarding her family ties quite well – Meddy loves everyone and doesn’t want to disappoint any of her aunts or her mother, but she struggles to find space to be herself within the confines of their love. I think this is something a lot of people can relate to and Sutanto conveys every aspect of that common adulting situation with a compassionate realism that will resonate with many. Nathan is a wonderful beta hero – he’s understanding, patient, kind, protective, helpful and devoted.
EW: The blurb asks: Is it possible to escape murder charges, charm her ex back into her life, and pull off a stunning wedding all in one weekend?
And my answer is a resounding – Yes! Sutanto does it all, and Dial A for Aunties is one of my favorite books of 2021. I laughed (a lot!) and I couldn’t put it down. Super fun and entertaining in every way; it’s a DIK, A-, for me.
MB: If you love farcical novels and adored Weekend at Bernies, Dial A for Aunties might be a perfect afternoon read for you. As a romance novel, though, my overall grade for it is a B. It relies heavily on its zany, wacky, unbelievable, excessive hilarity and only shines apart from that when it concentrates on how wonderful it can be to be part of a close, loving family. It will work for readers who like their humor goofy and don’t mind if the romantic hero and heroine don’t spend much time together.