Authors of Note: Jesse Q Sutanto

The Fiction Addiction

In the pandemic lockdown, I've been reading even more than usual. Mostly suspense and international fiction, plus some books recommended by friends. One of my my best discoveries this year has been the writer Jesse Q Sutanto, the author of The Obsession and Dial A for Aunties, both out this year.

I've been really into dark thrillers recently, so I already expected to love The Obsession, a suspenseful story about a twisted high school "romance." The Obsession is told in alternating chapters by Logan and Delilah, which is a pretty common trend in young adult fiction. (Another high school thriller, One of Us is Lying, also used this rotating POV to dramatic effect.) But here, it just serves to show how differently Logan and Delilah see their relationship.  I almost felt like the author was laughing at YA conventions, and I loved the book even more for it.

Logan admits he can get a little too obsessed when he's interested in a girl, but he considers it a sign of devotion. Doesn't that make him a better boyfriend? I loved this aspect of Logan as an unreliable narrator -- Sutanto seemed to be having a laugh at obsessively devoted high school romance (Looking at you, Twilight.) and all the creepily OTT grand gestures of romantic fiction. Logan legit believes that if a girl says she's not interested, he needs to force her to be interested, via a little social media stalking and loads of romantic gestures.

Logan hints at a deeply disturbing relationship with his former crush, and even feels like she's pointing him to Delilah, offering him a new girlfriend. It's the idea he deserves Delilah that's so creepy, it's not hard to imagine the headlines after a murder.

But then, Sutanto changes up the story we expect. Logan's only seen Delilah as an object, a lovely prize he deserves to win because of his dedication to stalking and manipulating her into being his girlfriend. When we finally get to hear Delilah's side of the story, it's... whoa. She has her own motivations and goals, which first just make her seem like a human instead of a gold star for Logan. After introducing Delilah as a sweet, studious prep school girl, then she shows her own extremely dark secret(s), and it's a wild ride.

The Obsession plays with the familiar beats of high school romances in YA fiction, but uses them to develop such a twisted relationship.

After loving that one, I was delighted to get the ARC for her upcoming novel Dial A For Aunties. This is a very different novel -- Instead of playing with the beats of a romance for a story about murder and obsession, this time Sutanto starts with a murder for a story about family and love.

Meddy's set up on a blind date by her mother, but when her date gets a little too aggressive, he, uh, winds up dead. They’re on a deserted road, miles from anything, where he was planning to have his way with her, so when Meddy finds herself completely alone with a corpse, she panics and calls her family for help. The murder definitely propels all the action in this novel (or was it really started by Meddy's mom, worried about her perpetually-single daughter?), but as the aunties try to hide the body and keep Meddy out of trouble, it becomes more of a family comedy. 

When Meddy's aunts aren't disposing of a body and hiding the evidence of murder, they run a family wedding business where Big Auntie bakes wedding cakes, Second Aunt does bridal makeup, Ma does the flowers, Fourth Auntie is a singer, and Meddy is the wedding photographer. They've got a huge wedding happening, so the Chan ladies will need to hide the body, dispose of the body, concoct an alibi or five, and keep the massive wedding running smoothly. Oh, and there’s also a jewel heist, a surprise return of an ex and a surprise queer romance coming. 

As I read Dial A For Aunties, I had absolutely no idea what was going to happen next. I kept wondering how Meddy and the aunties were going to get out of this crazy situation, but then something even crazier would happen.  Fortunately for our Meddy, her aunts have surprising resources in a crisis (Fourth Auntie’s absinthe?!?!?!?!),. Unfortunately for Meddy, no amount of crime and murder can keep them from eying potential husbands for her.

Both Dial A for Aunties and The Obsession were among my favorite recent reads, but they’re so different. It’s almost hard to remember that they’re written by the same person. Maybe there’s a similarity in the dispassionate descriptions of murders? I’m not exactly a fan of horror or gore in my suspense reading, so I was grateful for that. 

There’s also a few digressions for food descriptions. Even in all the stalking and  vengeance of The Obsession, there’s still time to talk about delicious Singaporean foods. But I found that same love for Singaporean foods in Sarong Party Girls and Crazy Rich Asians

These two novels are wildly different, but both are recommended. Dial A for Aunties is especially recommended for readers of family dramas and dark comedies in general. For more suspense stories about twisted friendships, I also liked The Girls Are All So Nice Here, Social Creature, and Beware That Girl.

Originally written for The Fiction Addiction.

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