Updated: Oct 26, 2022
Kevin Kwan Tackles Classism, Race, and Sexism in Novel.
Sex and Vanity
by Kevin Kwan
"Because the only person you’re deceiving is yourself."
Lately, I’ve been doing the whole combination-book-audiobook-thing because of my never-ending hectic schedule. Squeezing a little book time in the cracks of an otherwise packed calendar will be my life for a little while longer, it seems. So, to maximize my story consumption, I listen to an audiobook while driving or cooking dinner, or doing other monotonous activities. Then switch over to reading a physical book at bedtime. That’s what I did with Kevin Kwan’s Sex and Vanity.
If you know Kwan, it’s probably from the Crazy Rich Asians trilogy. I enjoyed books immensely (and whose movie didn’t do it justice). While Kwan’s writing is highly satirical, it manages not to be over the top. Well, that’s not fair. It is absolutely over the top, but he makes it wholly believable.
We meet Lucie, who herself is well to do and has made friends with all the right people. So much so that she’s being invited to Capri for the wedding of her former babysitter to an actual Duke. However, at 19, no one is letting her gallivant off to an Italian isle all by her lonesome. (And if this is odd to you, you’re most likely not a POC.)
Enter her oblivious, pretentious, but goodhearted cousin Charlotte as a chaperone. Without spoiling anything, it goes just about as well as you think. Being half Chinese and half WASP, Lucie has a foot in both worlds, never feeling fully at home in either. And Charlotte, bless her heart, does nothing to assuage those feelings.
What I relate to in Kwan’s writing is the truthfulness of his characterizations. They have uncomfortable conversations and internal monologues that sound all too familiar if you have ever had to tolerate well-meaning interactions with relatives that are unwittingly stabbing you to death emotionally. One of my favorite things is that he doesn’t shy away from the complication of microaggression and how often they can come from well-meaning people we love.
At some points, Lucie is downright unlikeable. She can be myopic, stubborn, and frightfully cruel, but you cannot help but pity her. She’s been made to feel trapped, backed into a corner by virtue of her existence. Kwan expertly weaves the issues of race, class, and gender into his book, forcing us to examine the monsters we create by participating in all these arbitrary societal rules. All while laughing heartily in the process.
Have you read Sex and Vanity? Leave your thoughts in the comments below!