Meddy Chan works for her family’s event company, which specializes in wedding services like hair styling, make-up, cakes, flowers, musical entertainment, and photography. For the upcoming Tom Cruise Sutopo / Jacqueline Wijaya wedding, Meddy also provides a dead body. Jesse Q Sutanto’s entertaining new novel, Dial A For Aunties, brings to mind the movies Weekend at Bernie’s and My Big Fat Greek Wedding, but with Chinese-Indonesian characters on a private island off the coast of Los Angeles.
The dead body is from Meddy’s date gone wrong the night before the big wedding, her family’s most prestigious job yet. Without her knowledge, her mother created an online dating profile for her and later convinced Meddy to go on this date. What could go wrong? As it turns out, more than Meddy, her mother, and her three aunts could ever have imagined.
Meddy uses a taser on her date in the car, which causes a fatal crash, fatal for her date. Meddy manages to lift the body into her trunk and drive home. She lives with her mother and confesses all, but before she can gather her thoughts, her mother phones her three sisters, the aunties, and proceeds to ask Meddy to start peeling fruit.
“Oh, we have dragon fruit, good, good. Big Aunt’s favorite. Wah, got pear too. Very good. Help me peel, don’t be so rude to your aunties, you will bring shame.”
“Oh, right, it’s the lack of fruit that’ll bring shame, not the dead body in the car.”
Her aunts and mother argue about the superstition of going to a wedding right after a funeral, but Meddy reminds them that hiding a dead body isn’t the same as participating in funeral rituals. Meddy’s mother concurs.
Meddy is correct. We just don’t bury body now. We—maybe we put him in freezer? Then on Monday, after wedding, we can bury body.
As in any comedy of errors, one thing after another goes wrong. Meddy’s stress is compounded greatly by coming face to face with her college sweetheart, Nathan, a man she broke up with a few years earlier because she couldn’t follow him to New York lest she disappoint her mother and aunts, all of whom expected her to join their new event-planning business.
Laugh out loud funny, Sutanto’s story also effortlessly weaves in pieces of Chinese-Indonesian culture. The groom’s name—Tom Cruise Sutopo—was chosen with care by his parents when he was born. So was Meddy’s.
It’s exactly the kind of thing Chinese-Indonesians love naming their kids after—famous people and/or brand names (I have a cousin named Gucci, who moved very far away as soon as he was legally able to), or some form of misspelling of a popular Western name. Also case in point: Meddelin. My parents were aiming for Madeleine.
The wedding guests number two thousand, low for a Chinese wedding in Indonesia. Before the ceremony, the bride and groom serve tea to their elders. In this case, a hundred relatives gather around as the couple’s parents, aunts and uncles give them luxury watches, jewelry, and even the deed to a new house.
Sutanto explains in her author’s note that her family, like many Chinese-Indonesians, speaks three languages: Bahasa Indonesia, Mandarin (or another Chinese dialect), and English. Sutanto sometimes uses a mish-mash of languages in her aunts’ and mother’s dialogue; the broken English is to celebrate the diversity of her culture. And here, culture means family. When Meddy learns that her aunts will soon be arriving to help straighten out the mess, she’s horrified her mother would tell anyone about this.