Red Envelope by Atom Yang: A Must Read
I’m late to the party with Red Envelope. It was first published in 2016, but I only saw it recently, and I’ll tell you, I pounced. It’s been sitting on my phone waiting for a moment when I had a free moment to read, but even though I wasn’t done with my deadline yet, last night I started it while I was in the tub.
Look, I’m going to tell you right here and now, Yang has mad skills and is going places, wherever he wants to go. And I’m following. I’m going to be a geek and talk craft here, because it was so delicious. The story is told in a gentle ping-ponging of flashbacks, and in theory that shouldn’t work, but Yang has the chops to pull it off. It’s the only way to tell this story. Yang is a consummate storyteller, luring you in, baiting you, teasing you, handing you just enough to get you crawling forward for a bit more. The flashbacks feel like walking through rooms, deep-diving into backstory in a way that doesn’t feel like marking time but like expanding it.
Then there’s the prose. I love Yang’s turns of phrase, alternately pleasing me with something thoughtful and then making me laugh with something lighter. I love his descriptions of things like making a sauce for mapo tofu (though then I was hungry and am now considering running to Szechuan House for lunch to get some of my own) and carrying food into family parties. I loved the family parties, rich with relatives too numerous to keep track of (I so relate).
But what made Red Envelope sing strongest was two things: the own voices Chinese-American narrative and the overarching theme of accepting one’s identity. The prologue, which you can read in the Amazon preview, talks about Clint, the narrator, having two lives, an American one and a Chinese one, but that “being who you are was about doing one thing: staying true to yourself.” Through Clint, Yang takes us into the warmth and joy of not one, not two, but three New Year’s parties, which for us Westerners who don’t know why it’s so important: New Year’s is a huge, important celebration in Asia, usually centered around family. There’s also a tradition of children receiving red envelopes from the adults, and I promise you, how the title reveals itself will have you melting.
Yang has such a deft hand. I immediately ran to all his social media hoping to read more, but alas, this is it for now. Watch this author. He’s got the chops. If I were a publisher, I’d be courting the hell out of him. But if anybody does go to him, you need to let him talk to you about covers. This one is perfect, down to that yellow lettering on that envelope red.
Such a treat. Please, Mr. Yang, as your fan, I beg you to write a full length novel soon! I’ll be first in line at the store.
Buy Red Envelope here.