“Omakase”
by Weike Wang
from the June 18, 2018 issue of The New Yorker

Weike Wang won the PEN/Hemingway Award for her debut novel Chemistry this past year. I myself have not read it nor have I heard much about it. If any of you have read Chemistry, or know more of Wang’s work, please share.

“Omakase” is the story of a couple sitting to have dinner at an omakase restaurant in Harlem. In Deborah Treisman’s interview with the author (here), Treisman says the man is white and the woman is the daughter of Chinese immigrants who “struggles to believe that his interest in her is not racially motivated.” Here’s how it begins:

The couple decided that tonight they would go out for sushi. Two years ago, they’d met online. Three months ago, they’d moved in together. Previously, she’d lived in Boston, but now she lived in New York with him.

The woman was a research analyst at a bank downtown. The man was a ceramic-pottery instructor at a studio uptown. Both were in their late thirties, and neither of them wanted kids. Both enjoyed Asian cuisine, specifically sushi, specifically omakase. It was the element of surprise that they liked. And it suited them in different ways. She got nervous looking at a list of options and would second-guess herself. He enjoyed going with the flow. What is the best choice? she’d ask him when flipping through menus with many pages and many words, and he’d reply, The best choice is whatever you feel like eating at the moment.

I hope you’ll let us know what you liked or didn’t like about “Omakase.” Please share below!

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By | 2018-06-12T02:37:53+00:00 June 12th, 2018|Categories: New Yorker Fiction, Weike Wang|Tags: |8 Comments

8 Comments

  1. David June 13, 2018 at 6:40 pm

    I am tempted to edit a version of the story where everything that isn’t the couple going to the restaurant is taken out. I suspect that would remove 80% of the story, but I bet the little bit that is left would be quite strong. In fact, if I were advising the author I would tell her to try it and then expand from there. It’s not that the other stuff is all that bad, it just all reads like summary exposition that is not really ever justified by the story of the couple’s night out.
    .
    For example, if there had been a moment were in their conversation one of them mentions something about her parents, leading to her giving extended backstory about her relationship with them, that would be ok. But a lot of it just gets presented as a data dump of background, much of which is not really needed for the action the story is supposed to be about.
    .
    Both the man and the woman felt like real people to me and both seemed like people I would not get along with well. The man in particular is a bit too socially clueless and condescending to the woman. The pat on the head is something you would only do to a pet or a very small child, so yes, it she should be insulted. But as characters these flaws and quirks of theirs are strengths. I would not want to be their friends, but I liked reading about them.
    .
    For someone who does not seem to have a track record writing short stories, this was ok.. I didn’t like the story enough to make me want to run out and get her novel, even though it did win an award, too. But I don’t feel I have any reason to be reluctant to check it out either.

  2. SM June 14, 2018 at 2:59 pm

    I agree with David that the story reads expository, but then again this is a woman who’s in her head a lot. I’m not sure if the ending would be as charged without the back-and-forth that came before.
    The ending, while entertaining, felt forced. The man was too comical to be a real person. The woman was alive, and I quite liked her. I would’ve preferred him not being so overtly stupid. In real life we are being silenced and can’t pinpoint why, and that makes real life (and good stories) all the more chilling.
    I hope my reflex would be same as hers in that situation, and I hope I’d be able to pick out eggs with my fingers, self-awareness be damned. Like most people I probably would do neither. Like most people, I look for that kind of catharsis in fictions.

  3. Arleen June 24, 2018 at 11:07 pm

    Let’s keep this forum about short story writing, please.

  4. Trevor June 24, 2018 at 11:38 pm

    I’m not sure what your concern is here, Arleen. I do want folks to feel comfortable sharing their thoughts.

  5. Larry Bone June 25, 2018 at 1:26 pm

    I realize Omakase seems one of those immigrant 2nd gen assimilation short stories that you either track with from the beginning.  Or you scratch your head and ask, “What is she talking  about?” 

    Also there’s a genderal inversion.  He seems more like the wife or the wifband, supporter of the husbandish wife, who brings home the bigger paycheck.  But that muddles the story somewhat.

    To me, it’s a simple today we went out for dinner story with a huge amount of nuance factored in through the details.  Maybe there is too much detail but you have a very simple yet complex ebb and flow here: detailed old school Asian survival concerns conflict with the progressive Western idea that everyone will survive in a better or worse state anyway so why sweat the small stuff?

    a)  Life is serious (woman)
    b)  Life is a joke (man)

    Key line for me was:

    “The man had no interest in money, and that fascinated her.  He seemed a free spirit, but how was he still alive today if he didn’t care about money.”

    The man represents to me Western progressive thought especially the “He seemed a free spirit.”

    But the conflict of the story is in the Asian viewpoint of it is “how was he still alive today if he didn’t care about money.”

    Then there is counterpoint of the chef versus the waitress.

    Key line concerning the waitress:

     “She wanted to say to the waitress, You have no idea how hard some of us worked so that you could dye your hair purple and pierce your lip.”

    The fired chef was Asian “old school” in that all his effort was directed at learning all the expertise necessary to prepare the perfect Omakase for two people.  He was fired because he wasn’t able to prepare that perfect Omakase for 50 people at once.  He could only prepare it for 2.

    It is seems so Western to take a kind of food expertly made in small amounts for 2 people and then sell it to a larger group of people to which the execution of it will have to be extremely modified downward or you can forget that and retain all the quality by providing it only to two people and be fired for missing the bigger financial picture.  It is quite a harsh mediocre world we’re heading towards through this short story.

    The woman seems old school Asian in that she perfected her abilities as a financial analyst so she will always survive.

    But the guy is free in a way she isn’t, he has her so he doesn’t have to worry about money because she is the “smarter” one. 

    She’s not really free in that she always has to think about things to arrive at the best outcome.  His best outcome was moving in with her so any outcome is the one that he can go with.

    Perfection in what one does is the only true survival guarantee.  But what then after materialist real success has been achieved?

    Western imperialist thought seems based on how much more money one can make off someone else’s perfection.

    Ironically, in less than 20 years the 2 most dominant world economies will probably both be Asian; either China or India or vice versa. 

    Maybe I’m reading too much into the details.  But I think the details brilliantly bring out the conflict in the daily life of two people motivated by two very different interwoven yet conflicting viewpoints.

  6. Greg June 27, 2018 at 6:57 pm

    SM – Thank you for making the link to the current women’s movement, and for being honest on what you would have done in the same situation.

    Larry – I really appreciate how you broke down the Western vs. Eastern mentalities in the story. You have revealed that the author wanted to show how the contrasting worldly values and mindsets impact the relationship!

    Lastly, these following parts in the story stood out to me:

    “And you’re able to do this because, well, let’s face it, you’re smarter than me. The man had said that. When he said it, the woman felt a happy balloon rise from her stomach to her mouth.”

    “How was that? the chef asked. He asked this question after every course, with his shoulders slumped forward, and their response – that it was the best tamago egg on sushi rice they’d ever had – pushed his shoulders back like a strong wind. The Japanese way, the woman thought. Or perhaps the Asian way. Or perhaps the human way.”

  7. Madwomanintheattic June 28, 2018 at 8:26 pm

    I thought the way this story dealt not only with the romantic conflict, but also with the pervasiveness of an Asian-America experience was especially engaging. The single-character point of view masterfully made the man seem both oafish to the reader and much prized by the woman, and her doubts about him reflected both her Asian-other persona and her unsure-partner status. We are often treated to stories of immigrant experience that focus only on the perceptions of cultural differences, so to me the interweaving of the two was unique. I also liked the staccato rhythm of the sentences, especially at the beginning of the story – it gave a particular flavor that told me I was reading the thoughts of a character with a valanced history. It made me think, there’s something going on here besides a dinner date.

  8. Greg June 29, 2018 at 1:12 am

    Thank you Mad Woman for highlighting the interweaving of the two dynamics!

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