Terroryaki! More than Whets the Appetite


By Jennifer K. Chung

3-Day Books 2011, 130 pp. $14.95 CDN/USD

Reviewed by: James Onusko

In just 72 hours, Jennifer Chung has written a short book that many aspiring and established authors would be proud to claim. Featuring a playfulness with characters, pirate tales, plot, and a pace that borders on the frenetic, readers will be taken on a roller coaster ride of emotions from wonderment to reflection to exhilaration.

Jennifer is a Taiwanese-American who in addition to writing is a pianist and software engineer. A graduate of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, she now lives in Seattle. Surprisingly, she has some ‘spare’ time in which she plays keyboard in a goth metal band and studies the Japanese martial art of Naginata. Terroryaki! is her debut novel.

The 3-Day Novel Contest has been run every Labour Day weekend since the late 1970s. The 2012 competition will be the thirty-fifth annual event and boasts contestants from around the world. In just 72 hours, writers are asked to produce a novel with nothing prepared beyond some basic ideas and a brief outline. The average submission is 100 typed pages in length – truly prodigious output over a long weekend.

Chung’s story features Daisy, an underachieving yet kind soul, and her sister Samantha (Sam), a successful and ambitious lawyer. Much of the story is driven forward by the upcoming wedding of Sam and her fiancée Patrick in Seattle. Additionally, early in the novel, Daisy becomes ‘haunted’ by an irresistible teriyaki mobile food truck that serves the best teriyaki chicken in the Seattle area that Daisy has ever tasted. Patrick also becomes obsessed with the food. The truck seems to appear out of nowhere, at times, and the proprietor/chef is charismatic, intriguing, and slightly creepy. Sprinkled throughout the novel are Daisy’s great blog entries that rate the Seattle-area eateries that feature teriyaki and she is employed at a local restaurant as well. Helping to keep the wedding preparations on the rails and trying to figure out this mysterious truck and its owner, keep Daisy busy throughout the lightning-quick novel.

In this excerpt Sam and Daisy have agreed to get pedicures so they can gather more information about the mysterious teriyaki truck and owner, but things do not go as planned:

I rushed over to them. The older woman was still muttering about the sorry state of Sam’s skin as she continued to paint Sam’s thrashing foot. From behind, I grabbed the woman around her waist and pulled her back.

For someone so small, she was heavy. Sam’s toenails were covered in polish. So were Sam’s toes, Sam’s feet, the cuffs of Sam’s jeans… Sam grunted and got herself out of the chair.

The truck was still outside. We all turned to watch as Madison from the ice cream shop handed a punch card and a wad of cash to Goth Teriyaki Truck Man. He stamped the punch card and returned her change, then handed her a large plastic bag. She flipped her hair, then walked away.

“I’m so sorry. Please forgive my employee.”

 I twisted to look behind me. A matronly woman had appeared next to a side door. She rushed over to us. I felt Sam’s woman relax, and I let her go.

The matron spoke angrily to Sam’s woman, then motioned to the door. Quickly, the other woman ran to the door and left, shutting it behind her.

“I am the owner,” the matron said. “Please forgive my technician. Sometimes, she is too dedicated to her work.”

“This is the worst nail salon I have ever visited,” Sam said. Her eyes flashed, and she glared at the owner. “Give me one reason why I shouldn’t sue you and your employee for assault right now.”

“I’m so sorry.” The new woman ran to the register. “Please, take these gift certificates. Good for two free full nail services, any time you want. Also, tonight is no charge.”

“You better believe tonight is no charge,” Sam shot back. She grabbed her purse from the dentist’s chair. “Daisy, we’re leaving now.”

Our nails were still wet. We picked up our shoes and ran outside.

The truck was gone.

There is not a lot to quibble with in Chung’s novel and without question I have an inherent soft spot for the winning books in this contest. Undertaking, let alone winning this event, is courageous. However, the ending is more abrupt than what I would have liked and it read relatively hollow considering the great build-up to that point. I would be nearly certain that this reflects the tight parameters of the contest more than Chung’s obvious writing skills. I would have liked Chung to have explored Daisy’s character more fully, even if it was at the expense of another character, such as Patrick. Finally, and this is likely selfishness more than anything, another blog entry or two from Daisy would have been great. While there were many strengths, these reviews were easily the highlights of the book for me.

These drawbacks were minor and did not diminish the overall quality of the novel to a great extent. Chung’s writing is lively and displays keen wit, a great sense of humour and a flair for the dramatic. I hope that this debut novel signals that there is much more to come from her. Terroryaki! is suitable for readers from their early teens and on, and can be read in two or three hours. I recommend it to anyone who enjoys writing that explores those ‘universal’ themes of love, family, and loyalty with poignancy, sensitivity and humour.

*A copy of Terroryaki! was sent to me to read and review. It was not purchased.

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