Delia Cai’s debut novel Central Places follows a woman who left her Midwest home for Manhattan and fell in love. Now she’s bringing her fiancé back to meet her immigrant parents in hopes of them hitting it off when they finally meet. What follows is a laugh out loud, charming debut novel.
Debutiful had the author answer our recurring A Life of Books questionnaire so readers can get to know her better!
Is there a book or series that, when you think back, helped define your childhood?
I don’t think I loved anything more than Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House on the Prairie series. Is this pandering to my book’s midwest theme a little? Maybe. But I truly, absolutely imprinted on that stuff. The name cards! The dugout home! The weird little pig bladder balloon they tossed around! She was so good at making those scenes unforgettable. I would like to think those books taught me that it’s the ordinary details that make up the best parts of life.
Would you want any children in your life (yours or relatives’) to read those too? Or what’s your philosophy on what children read?
If I have kids in the future, I’m definitely putting them onto everything Laura Ingalls. It’ll be a running joke that this is their cultural inheritance.
In general, I think kids should read whatever they want—the more surreal, the better. The A Wrinkle In Time series and The Phantom Tollbooth were so freaking weird, man. But they opened up some serious portals. Kids need portals.
Moving to your school years: what book did you read in high school and hated (or skipped reading at all) that you learned you loved later in life?
I didn’t get the hype around The Great Gatsby when I first read it as a sophomore, but I do remember that was the first book that was taught to me in a way that was like, now here is a story! instead of just a container of metaphors and vocab terms. Fitzgerald knew then what we keep finding out in each new season of Succession or off-the-rack HBO drama: that rich people are nuts, and we will never not want to hear about them.
What about the opposite way? One you loved in your teens, but realized you didn’t love it so much later on?
Wuthering Heights was so…erotic? to me when I first read it (as a moody emo teenager). Now, you could not pay me to suffer through all that suffering!
Are there any books that you read while writing your debut that helped shape the direction you took your own book?
Meg Wolitzer’s The Wife was a huge structural inspiration. It’s a perfect novel in the genre of We Went On a Trip and Things Fell Apart. Like The Wife, I have Central Places begin mid-air on a flight; in a perfect world, everyone would read this book while they’re traveling home themselves.
What is a book you’ve read that you thought, Damn, I wish that was mine?
Okay speaking of high school books, you know what I finally read for the first time? The Bell Jar. It holds up! The first bits where she’s a disaffected magazine girly living in New York? I’m annoyed she nailed it better than any of us ever will.
What have you been reading / do you plan to read during your debut book tour?
I’ve been unconsciously stacking my reading time with very few novels, probably because I don’t want to be comparing fictional worlds, so lately I’ve been reading The Body Keeps The Score and memoirs like Qian Julie Wang’s Beautiful Country. Both very sobering, but I guess I’m super into family dynamics right now. To be honest, I think I need to reread Central Places actually real quick because it has been a while since I actually looked at it…
And, finally, I have to ask… I’m sorry. What’s next? But wait! Only use three words.
A Cancun Bestiemoon!