Last Tang Standing
I’m guessing Last Tang Standing will divide readers, and I’ve spent several days waffling over my grade. It’s entertaining, but Ho keeps us waiting for the pursuit of happiness . . . and opening oneself up to love until the last five pages of the story! Since LTS is categorized as a romance, I’ve graded it accordingly, but in reality, it’s chick lit or women’s fiction or whatever the publisher wants to call it, masquerading as a romance. The happily ever after is so supremely unsatisfying and underwhelming – and LITERALLY tucked into the very last page of the book, it spoiled any happy feelings I had about this story. LTS markets itself as a mash-up of Crazy Rich Asians (didn’t read it; liked the movie), and Bridget Jones Diary (loved the book and the movie), and it’s an apt – although generous – description. It does have some brilliant moments, but it’s much, much too long, drags in the middle and features a heroine it’s hard to root for.
Andrea Tang seems to have it all: an enviable job as a high-profile lawyer at one of Singapore’s most esteemed firms, a swanky apartment, and the best friends a woman could ask for.
Except, according to her Tiger mother and Auntie Wei Wei, the Tang family matriarch, she’s missing one essential element: a husband. When the story begins, Andrea has barely survived Auntie Wei Wei’s annual Chinese New Year party and the juggernaut of curious family members eager to know why she isn’t married yet. Andrea’s come prepared for their pitiful stares, and then she learns that Auntie Wei Wei’s only daughter Helen is engaged, leaving Andrea to become what she fears the most: the Last Tang Standing, lone singleton in a sea of married Tangs. Helen’s engagement sends Andrea into a tailspin. After several drinks (and then a few more), Andrea decides it’s time to get on The Apps, and find a man.
When Andrea decides it’s time to find the perfect husband, she conveniently ignores the one man she won’t admit she’s attracted to: Suresh Aditparan, her kind and funny office-mate. Annoyingly attractive and always awesome-smelling, Suresh is her biggest rival for partner and therefore her enemy. He’s also engaged. And since he’s off-limits and probably evil, she dives head first into The Apps and a secret relationship with a much younger man. Despite warnings from friends – and Suresh – that he’s bad news, she keeps meeting him until, much like everyone predicted, it ends in disaster. Andrea attempts to hide her hurt, but Suresh notices and provides a distraction by inviting her out with his group of friends. Andrea is forced to admit she likes Suresh (god forbid), but she still doesn’t trust him. And even though it seems like the attraction is mutual, she pretends it isn’t and treats Suresh like trash. For real folks. Poor Suresh.
She reluctantly allows her best friend (and cousin) Linda to help her with The Apps, but when Linda disappears into a new love affair (this is a distracting and disappointing sub-plot), she’s forced to spend time with other friends. When Andrea agrees to go to a super fancy book club with Wendy (who she constantly disparages via her inner monologue), she isn’t sure what to expect. The house, high in the Singapore hills with a killer view of the city and the food are amazing; the company is decidedly less so. Failing to insinuate herself into any of the conversations going on around her, she escapes to the terrace to enjoy the view and is surprised by a handsome server who asks her if she’s enjoying herself. She candidly hypothesizes their host is actually a lecherous old man and he’s clearly amused by her response. When they’re eventually called inside to begin discussing the book, she discovers why. The handsome, older man she thought was a server is actually her host Eric Deng, a wealthy and single hotelier and entrepreneur – and possibly, the man of her mother’s dreams. When he shows up at her office several days later, Andrea’s boss is thrilled and Andrea is flattered. Her boss urges her to bring him on as a client, but Eric demurs; he isn’t interested in a business relationship with Andrea. After several platonic, slightly awkward dates, Andrea finally asks Eric if he’s interested in her romantically. He is. The sex is hot and plentiful (we have to take her word for it; it’s all off-page), and before long Eric is pressuring her to marry him. Andrea thinks she’s happy – except her job is still a misery, she can’t stop thinking about Suresh – from whom she’s all but estranged after pushing him away one too many times – and it just doesn’t feel like she thought it would.
Friends, my knowledge of Chinese customs and Tiger parents is basic at best. But based on this novel, it’s clear Andrea feels tremendous pressure (and little happiness) trying to always be the best; when we meet her, she’s exhausted by the effort and more than a little lost. Unfortunately, while her diary entries and first person PoV are often funny and slightly bonkers ridiculous, I mostly just felt sorry for her. Her dogged pursuit of a job she doesn’t want, obsession with the trappings of wealth (honestly, the constant name dropping grows tedious), and futile attempts to make her mother happy, suck all the joy from this story. Andrea is so committed to her own continued misery, she’s blind to things that actually make her (and us!) happy. Meanwhile, she hypocritically surrounds herself with ‘friends’ with whom she constantly finds fault, and then ignores the one person who supports her warts and all (Suresh!). Andrea works hard and plays hard – honestly, what starts as an homage to Bridget Jones and her love of wine soon segues into a woman on the brink of alcoholism – but I found her life choices and hurtful, judgemental personality impossible to relate to.
Notwithstanding my inability to relate to Andrea, LTS is entertaining (especially its depictions of Singapore) and often very funny. Andrea’s PoV is just the right balance of self-deprecating and painfully honest, and the novel moves at a mostly brisk pace as Andrea flails from one mishap to the next. Unfortunately, it loses momentum detailing Andrea’s relationship with Eric (whom every romance reader on earth knows is not The One), segues into Andrea finally choosing to put her own personal happiness first, before finally focusing on the relationship readers waited and waited for… DEAR GOD, JUST GET TO IT. The one where Andrea chooses Suresh. Mature, kind and honestly lovely in every way, Suresh tries to tell Andrea how he feels, but she rebuffs him. The author builds up our expectations for these two and then…
To say I was disappointed by the ending is a massive understatement. Ultimately, Last Tang Standing is a much too-long story chronicling one shallow woman’s unhappy search for love and acceptance. It barely qualifies as a romance, and I honestly can’t recommend it.
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