East or West, music studies or the family business, authentic soy sauce or a cheaper modern alternative? These are the choices facing droopy Gretchen Lin in a pleasant if generic tale of roots and romance.
Cheated on by her husband, 30-year-old Gretchen needs a break from life in San Francisco, her home for 15 years, and flies back to Singapore. Killing time, she helps out at the family’s artisanal soy sauce factory, Lin's Soy Sauce, where stability has been threatened by the introduction of a cheaper line and also by the ready-to-cook sauces marketed by heir-apparent cousin Cal, which cause food poisoning. In need of distraction, Gretchen hooks up with a peculiarly casual new boyfriend and also happily welcomes an old college friend who has arrived for a year’s consultancy at the factory, but she also finds herself being sucked back into family dilemmas, including her mother’s heavy drinking, which has resulted in kidney failure. Forced to act, Gretchen helps get her mother into rehab, then takes a trip back to San Francisco to represent the firm at a food trade convention where a lucky meeting with a high-profile talk show host helps Gretchen finally make up her mind about her future.
Comparisons with Lin’s new-fangled sauce—short on depth and complexity—are inevitable given the conventional flavor of Chen’s readable but lightweight debut.