In the surrealistic space between success and stardom, Eddie Huang fell in love.
“Double cup love is love as a drug,” says Huang, author of Double Cup Love: On the Trail of Family, Food and Broken Hearts in China.
“I drank sizzurp a few times, and when I was a kid I would drink Robitussin, and so it’s like when you drink codeine, promethazine you just kind of fall out—things slow down and speed up and it’s kind of a mess, but you want to stay in it. So that’s what [Double Cup Love] is about—how people you love come in and out of your life and when they’re in it, it’s as good as it gets.”
Huang is the American-born Chinese-Taiwanese chef whose bestselling debut memoir, Fresh Off the Boat, inspired the hit ABC sitcom by the same name (which he later disavowed). He met the woman who became his fiancée while sipping sizzurp at a Williamsburg dive bar. She was taller, had a funny laugh, and drank from his cup without knowing who he was or what was up.
“I was so happy that she had no idea,” Huang writes in Double Cup Love. His restaurant Baohaus was popular, “my memoir was finished, and in a week I’d be shooting the first episode of my show for Vice. I’d wanted it all, but everything burned brighter in this new terrain. The only skin I’d ever known was peeling. Someone had to know me before it was all gone, before I was all brand new.”
“Dena,” as she’s called in the book, turned out to be the “ride-or-die chick” of Huang’s dreams—an Irish-Italian all-American woman from Scranton, Pennsylvania—aka white. As they got to know one another’s people and places, Huang discovered some cultural common ground:
“People from Scranton are similar to Chinese Americans in this way: They don’t expect anything good to happen to them,” he writes. “They believe in hard work, but not because they expect any tangible positive results. They suspect that their hard work and sacrifice will most likely disappear into the ether somewhere between Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, but that’s no excuse to stop trying.”
By the time Huang realized he was ready to propose, in 2013, he was en route to China. He’d sold a second memoir on the premise that he and his brothers, as undercover bao vendors, would bring American-born Chinese-Taiwanese cuisine to the motherland (“Classic Eddie Downward Assimilation story,” he pitched his editor). While Double Cup Love does truck in food, family, and cultural identity, as intended, it’s all contextualized by Huang’s crescendoing romance. Ultimately, it’s a love story with a more ambiguous approach than Fresh Off the Boat.
“Fresh Off the Boat was much more brash, it was very raw—a bit more of a call to arms,” Huang says. “[Double Cup Love], I think, is more mature, and it’s allowing people to interpret myself, my experiences, my writing, identity, love in their own way, and I think the reader has the space to come in and take that.”
But one thing is clear: Huang’s engagement ends, as indicated by the subtitle. Eighteen months after accepting his proposal, Dena takes it back—in a short, sharp transition that, to the reader, is like a slap.
“For me, those 18 months felt like a slap,” Huang says. “With Dena, I never wanted it to end, and it ended. To me, it really was love. I went down this rabbit hole and before I knew it, I was back, and she was gone—so it really felt like there was a hangover, too.”
Nevertheless, Huang considers Double Cup Love “very bullish on love,” he says, “and I hope that it inspires people to remember this is why we’re here. Relationships are the best part about being alive. You go to people’s homes—the art is cool, but it’s the personal photos that are the best. Relationships are incredible. As bad as mine ended, I am ready to do it again. I know it’s the best thing.”
Megan Labrise writes “Field Notes” and features for Kirkus Reviews.