Inheritance Drama Threatens to Tear a Family Apart in Kathy Wang’s ‘Family Trust’

Can money really solve everything?

Kathy Wang Family Trust Book Review
Family Trust Book Cover Family Trust
Kathy Wang
Harper Collins
October 30, 2018

Meet Stanley Huang: father, husband, ex-husband, man of unpredictable tastes and temper, aficionado of all-inclusive vacations and bargain luxury goods, newly diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. For years, Stanley has claimed that he’s worth a small fortune. But the time is now coming when the details of his estate will finally be revealed, and Stanley’s family is nervous.

For his son Fred, the inheritance Stanley has long alluded to would soothe the pain caused by years of professional disappointment. By now, the Harvard Business School graduate had expected to be a financial tech god – not a minor investor at a middling corporate firm, where he isn’t even allowed to fly business class.

Stanley’s daughter, Kate, is a middle manager with one of Silicon Valley’s most prestigious tech companies. She manages the capricious demands of her world-famous boss and the needs of her two young children all while supporting her would-be entrepreneur husband (just until his startup gets off the ground, which will surely be soon). But lately, Kate has been sensing something amiss; just because you say you have it all, it doesn’t mean that you actually do.

Stanley’s second wife, Mary Zhu, twenty-eight years his junior, has devoted herself to making her husband comfortable in every way—rubbing his feet, cooking his favorite dishes, massaging his ego. But lately, her commitment has waned; caring for a dying old man is far more difficult than she expected.

Linda Liang, Stanley’s first wife, knows her ex better than anyone. She worked hard for decades to ensure their financial security, and is determined to see her children get their due. Single for nearly a decade, she might finally be ready for some romantic companionship. But where does a seventy-two year old Chinese woman in California go to find an appropriate boyfriend?

As Stanley’s death approaches, the Huangs are faced with unexpected challenges that upend them and eventually lead them to discover what they most value. A compelling tale of cultural expectations, career ambitions and our relationships with the people who know us best, Family Trust skewers the ambition and desires that drive Silicon Valley and draws a sharply loving portrait of modern American family life.

Leo Tolstoy famously eulogized families this way: “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” The Huang’s are no different in Kathy Wang‘s debut novel, Family Trust.

Fred and Kate Huang are first-generation Americans. Their parents,  Stanley and Linda, immigrated from China in the middle of the 20th century and settled into a traditional Chinese community just outside of Silicon Valley, where they nurtured both their children as well as some high expectations for their futures. We meet the Huang’s just as Stanely receives a harrowing diagnosis from his doctor: pancreatic cancer. Realizing that their patriarch’s time is short, the Huang’s, along with Stanely’s second wife Mary, finally begin to deal with the issues that have been at the center of their family all along.

Stanely is a selfish and self-centered old man, whose tendency for violence thwarted his children’s chances at a happy childhood. His ex-wife, Linda, is smart and financially savvy, she’s moved on with her life and recently decided to re-enter the dating pool as a wealthy 70-year-old woman. Mary, Stanely’s second wife, is twenty years his junior. She’s doting and devoted– at least as long as there’s a promise of a significant windfall for her at the end of Stanely’s life. Fred has recently made some disastrous personal and professional choices, ones that threaten to upend his already mediocre existence. And finally, there’s Kate, a successful tech-mogul whose happy home life may end up being anything but. At the root of the story is this: the family’s various dramas and grievances could all be solved by Stanely’s will. If he really is worth what he claims he is the money could allow each of them a measure of freedom they so desperately want.

But of course, things are never that easy. The Huang’s harbor a fear that Stanely hasn’t been completely honest about exactly how much money is in his estate. Linda also is convinced that Mary will find a way to lay claim to everything, leaving Fred and Kate with no inheritance from their father except fake Rolex watches and discarded wedding rings. Talking about money is never easy, especially with family dynamics like this, and things take a dramatic turn very quickly.

Told from the alternating viewpoints of each of the main characters, Family Trust is a juicy family drama that’s vaguely reminiscent of Celest Ng‘s Little Fires Everywhere or Kevin Kwan‘s Crazy Rich Asians. Wang spins an intriguing tale that examines the nature of family, loyalty and the life-altering choices we all make. It’s poignant, bitingly funny, and, occasionally, deeply touching. Family Trust takes a sharp and honest look at the status and money-obsessed culture we live in today. Readers are bound to turn the last page feeling satisfied, realizing that at the end of the day “life just seem[s] to be a series of small mistakes, which you continued to make over and over again.” Family trusts are no exception.
Madison Troyer
the authorMadison Troyer
Book Contributor (Intern)
Maddie is an Idaho native turned Brooklyn dweller. In 2015 she completed her B.A. in Media, Culture and the Arts at The King’s College, and has worked as an entertainment and lifestyle writer for various outlets ever since. In her free time you can find her with her nose buried in a book, chasing her next half marathon PR or playing endless rounds of dominoes with her boyfriend in Bed-Stuy.