Omakase by Weike Wang, 2018
The magic trick:
Perfectly aligned peg and backstory
It’s probably a cheat to include this story here in our week of Chinese stories. Wang is a Chinese-American author, and the story is set in New York City. But I think it’s a worthy, relevant addition. I hope you do too.
This story follows a fairly familiar format. And I don’t know the proper literary terms, so forgive me if I’m getting this all wrong. But anyway…
The story has a peg of sorts in the form of the story of a couple’s night out for sushi. The peg, as is the norm, is pretty slight, but it’s there to allow the narrator to fill in all the gaps with lots of backstory about the couple’s history. The ratio winds up being something like 30-percent peg, 70-percent backstory.
I think sometimes this kind of thing can go wrong pretty easily. Maybe the peg isn’t interesting enough. Perhaps it never seems to connect strongly enough to the backstory.
But with “Omakase,” the format fits the content perfectly. The peg to backstory ratio makes sense. The transitions back and forth always work. And most crucially, the peg’s plot doesn’t just showcase the themes and concerns expressed through the backstory; the peg develops and enhances those themes.
And that’s quite a trick on Wang’s part.
You worry too much, the man said whenever she brought up the fact that she still didn’t feel quite at home in New York. And not only did she not feel at home; she felt that she was constantly in danger.
You exaggerate, the man replied.
At the restaurant, he gave the woman a look of his own. This look said two things: one, you worry too much, and, two, this is fun—I’m having fun, now you have fun.
The woman was having fun, but she also didn’t want to get food poisoning.
As if having read her mind, the man said, If you do get sick, you can blame me.
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