I had high expectations for this novel, especially because it claims to explore the inner-lives and the behind the scenes of a popular restaurant. Having spent many years working in restaurants, I was excited at the possibility of a novel reflecting the way in which those you work with in restaurants become your family. At every restaurant I’ve ever worked in, the staff becomes this weird, cobbled together, dysfunctional family—one that you depend on, fight with, grow with, etc.
While I enjoyed certain aspects of this novel, it fell a little flat. Li’s prose, especially her descriptions of the characters physical reactions to their inner emotions, is beautiful--- but doesn’t always feel natural. A lot of stomach aches and dizziness over emotions that seem to come out of no where. She describes characters emotions and the physical toll they take with unusual detail, but her descriptions of the characters themselves are so sparse that I can’t understand why one character would evoke such emotion in another. Their relationships and drama aren’t always believable because I can’t see why they’d even like each other. Most of the characters are highly unpleasant, therefore it’s hard to believe they have a side that attracts their fellow characters. There must be something in them I can’t see. I wish Li would’ve focused a bit more on their redeeming qualities, instead of their faults, so I could at least understand what draws the more likable characters to them. It’s almost as if there this was novel was the second in a series and we missed out on the first novel, the one with the crucial character and world building necessary to make the second, Number One Chinese Restaurant, truly engaging.