> Zed Book Club / A Shocking Death Kicks Off Kevin Kwan’s Jet-Setting Rom-Com, ‘Lies & Weddings’

Photos: candalabra ( Coral222/Getty Images); wedding bands (Burazin/Getty Images); 'Lies and Weddings' by Kevin Kwan

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A Shocking Death Kicks Off Kevin Kwan’s Jet-Setting Rom-Com, ‘Lies & Weddings’

In a Q&A with the 'Crazy Rich Asians' author, he schools us on classic literature and explains how the one per cent aren't always as wealthy as they seem  / BY Rosemary Counter / May 28th, 2024


Because you’re no doubt curious, international bestselling author Kevin Kwan is not crazy rich, per se, but more crazy-rich adjacent, thanks to his novel-worthy upbringing. The 50-year-old Los Angeles-based writer of Crazy Rich Asians was born in Singapore, the great-grandson of the founding director of the country’s oldest bank. His family had servants and he mingled with old establishment money until – plot twist! – his father relocated to Houston, Texas, where he decided to give Kwan and his two brothers a normal, middle-class life.

At 11, Kwan reluctantly learned how to mow the lawn and wash dishes, but all this ultimately underscored the other half of his winning formula: The deeply American notion that individuals should follow their hearts and passions and a person’s value doesn’t come from their last name and bank account. The tension between East and West, rich and poor, old and new is at the heart of all Kwan’s compulsively readable books, including his newest, Lies & Weddings

 

Kevin Kwan

 

The heartfelt rom-com, reminiscent of Four Weddings and a Funeral and My Best Friend’s Wedding, features long-time best friends at four impossibly swanky weddings (one in an ice castle, and another in hot air balloons). Rufus and Eden are madly in love, but Rufus is the eldest son of the Earl of Greshamsbury and Lady Arabella, a Chinese tiger-mom intent on marrying her son to a similarly rich and well-born heiress. That is, not Eden, a mere doctor who is firmly against grotesque displays of wealth. 

Where does Kwan stand on the matter? Somewhere in the middle, naturally, as his satire is as much a biting critique of the “richer than God” set as it is an invitation into their fabulous world. With the addition of delicious menus and recipes, gossipy exposés from a fictional tabloid, juicy text-message transcripts and insider footnotes, Lies & Weddings darts around the world from Hawaii to London to Marrakech to Beverly Hills and back again. Zoomer caught up with the author on his book tour in Toronto for a fun chat about over-the-top weddings, chandeliers versus candelabras, classic literature and fake pearls. 

 

Kevin Kwam
Kwan grew up in Singapore brunching with princesses and surrounded by servants, but his father moved the family to Texas when he was 11, where he had to learn to do the dishes and mow the lawn. Photo: Courtesy of the author

 

Rosemary Counter: Your book made me feel like I just attended an entire wedding season in one weekend. 

Kevin Kwan: Haha! I hope that’s a good thing? Depending on whether you like weddings or not, you might love or hate this book. 

RC: So, do you like weddings?  

KK: In small doses. I really only go to weddings now of family and really really close friends. I had to issue a policy, because it was getting out of control. Unless you know at least five people, they’re just not fun. 

RC: I think it’s fun to know either everybody or nobody. I’ve never been to one in a hot air balloon though! Have you? 

KK: I’ve only seen that on a video. The craziest wedding I’ve ever been to took place in a Mayan rainforest. The bride and groom had met and fallen in love there, so we all trekked out into the jungle. They lit up the trees and had chefs cooking around open hearths and people with big buckets of lit copal, a rock that lets out this beautiful incense. So the whole scene was this big foggy rainforest party with music blasting. It felt other-worldly.

RC: So many gorgeous weddings in this book, and yet we start with a bloody impalement via chandelier. 

KK: It was a candelabra, not a chandelier, which would have to fall on you. You can only get impaled by a candelabra. I was absolutely trying to shock you, because that scene sets off an enormous chain of events that are still unfolding decades later. It’s a butterfly effect that brings us the whole adventure of the book. 

RC: When you’re writing, do you start right there and write outwards? 

KK: I do. I write chronologically and nothing’s mapped out. I just start writing and let it come to me. Now, this book is inspired by Doctor Thorne [by Anthony Trollope], so I have my major plot points already there, but then I veer way off course and make it my own. I know a death has to happen, for example, but I added the candelabra. 

RC: Are your other books based on classics? I didn’t even realize! 

KK: Yes, the new trilogy I started in 2020 began with Sex and Vanity, which was inspired by A Room with a View [by E.M. Forster]. These books are my homage to my favourites of classic literature. The third and last will also be based on a classic, but I can’t reveal it now. I have to write it and make sure it’s working before I start telling people. It’s not Pride and Prejudice, I’ll tell you that. It’s more obscure than that. 

RC: You seem to have so much fun getting creative with stuff other than straight copy: a gossip magazine article, wedding invitation, fancy menu.

KK: I basically write for myself, to be honest, so all these are a way for me to cheat the process and make it fun for me. My goal is to keep myself interested in hopes the reader will stay interested. I like to not know what I’m going to write tomorrow. For me, that’s a good thing. 

RC: I’d think for most writers, that’d be a terrifying thing. 

 KK: I don’t want to be predictable. It’s all about what inspires me on the day, and if that’s a menu, I accept the process and write that. The footnotes are a whole different layer again; they inform the story, but they don’t take away from it. If you want to ignore the footnotes, because you don’t care what year the house was built in or whatever, you absolutely can. But if you’re into that stuff, which I believe would take away from the momentum if they were in the actual text, then they’re there for you. If something’s interesting enough to me that I’d want to know, I include it.

RC: Tell me about research for this book. Tell me you went to Hawaii, Venice, Morocco…

KK: To make it authentic, I have to see a place with my own eyes and make sure the things that happen in my books are possible. So, I had to go to all these places. I had to eat all the food and test the mattresses. It’s an occupational hazard, really. I went to Hawaii, where I was inspired, then back to L.A., then Venice and London. I didn’t go to Morocco, though I’d been there previously. But mostly I was in L.A., writing. 

RC: Talk to me about walking a fine line between buying into this world and criticizing it. Do you lean one way or the other?

KK: That’s satire for you right there. It lets you look at something, show it and reveal it, but it’s up to you to buy into whether it’s terrible or not. On a personal level, I find gross displays of wealth obscene. I’d hope that comes through. Certainly the characters that are more heroic to me are the good doctors like Eden. 

RC: I can’t explain it or prove it, but this book has shades of My Best Friend’s Wedding in it. Have you seen it? 

KK: I love that movie! That and Four Weddings and a Funeral. But Eden and the Julia Roberts character are very different. Eden’s not trying to sabotage anything, though there’s plenty of sabotage going on. My books are always good fun. I’m trying to take people on a ride, but also I try to inspire people to understand my characters whose lives are so, so different from theirs. My first three books were about Asians in Asia, and the next three are about Asians in the rest of the world. These characters are really caught between both, and trying to figure it all out and accept who they are. Hopefully that’s in there too, not just all champagne, all the time. 

RC: It is, but I like the champagne part, too. I think I’d be great at being crazy rich. 

KK: They have all their own problems, of course. There’s a lot of family and duty and carrying on the family name. Many of these fortunes, meanwhile, aren’t real. They’re all leveraged, they’re financed by other people, they’re in huge debt. They aren’t always as they seem. 

RC: Like those pearls that keep popping up! I sense a metaphor there. 

KK: You got that, did you? Good for you. They’re real, I think, but Eden tells people they’re fake, because she’s not out to impress people. Actually, she tells some people they’re real and others they’re fake. Ultimately, it doesn’t really matter. They’re just like Eden. Is she a bargain-basement accessory or is she a treasure in the end? Dot dot dot.

This interview has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.

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