Counterfeit Review: Friendship, Lies, and Counterfeit Handbags

We truly live in a time of con artists, so it seems natural that our contemporary fiction is beginning to reflect this trend, both in terms of the stories it chooses to tell and the way those stories are framed. Kirstin Chen’s latest novel, counterfeitis a story of tricksters, and in which the public itself can find itself repeatedly deceived.

On the surface, the story is an ordinary crime story, in which two women team up to start a manufacturing business to manufacture and distribute counterfeit handbags. And not like the obviously misspelled Prada clutches we all used to buy on Canal Street in the early 2000s, but high-quality knockoffs that are (almost) indistinguishable from the real thing. But the story ultimately turns out to grapple with much meatier subjects, ranging from reclaiming and challenging Asian stereotypes (getting its characters to use these model minority perceptions to their advantage) and critiquing the myths surrounding the culture of Chinese overachievers.

The story first follows Ava Wong, a Chinese-American lawyer who never followed a rule she didn’t follow. Married to a prominent surgeon and on indefinite hiatus from her corporate law work to raise her two-year-old son, her life — at least on the surface — seems pretty perfect. Below, however, everything collapses. Her husband Oli is never home, Henri’s constant and endless tantrums constantly make her nervous, and she secretly hates the law degree she never wanted to get in the first place.

Enter Winnie Fang, Ava’s former roommate at Stanford who suddenly reenters her life, looking well rested, professionally groomed physically and effortlessly wealthy. Ava is stunned – and more than a little jealous – at least until she learns that Winnie’s easy wealth comes from an intricate scheme of fraud. Her scheme, in which her company makes fake luxury bags which she then flips for cash at high-end boutiques, before selling the genuine items on eBay at a discounted but still net price, is somehow pushing each of Ava’s good girl buttons. Winnie doesn’t follow the rules. She cheats. And all his success is marred by it.

But on an impromptu trip to China to visit relatives, Ava’s husband cancels her credit cards, leaving her no choice but to reluctantly go to work for Winnie rather than tell her family. gossips that her perfect American life isn’t so perfect after all. . And so a partnership was born.

(Basically I already fancast Michelle Yeoh and Doona Bae in the upcoming feature film adaptation, I’m just saying. Fight me.)

counterfeit is a fast-paced, immersive thriller, and its story strikes the perfect balance between feminist fury and dangerous intrigue, complete with an impressive array of luxe details about the fashion industry, its dark, exploitative underbelly, and the bags that arouse envy and huge waiting lists around the world. Its first half follows Ava’s confession to a police detective after their scheme is discovered; his second changes perspective to Winnie’s version of events. Ava portrays Winnie as a dastardly criminal mastermind, ready to use and exploit everyone in her path for her own game. Winnie’s story makes Ava seem much more scheming and manipulative, someone who frequently leans into perceptions and cultural expectations to ensure it is seen a certain way. Which story is authentic? Whose is the counterfeit? Are they both wrong in different ways?

Chen’s deft writing makes it clear that no one is quite what they seem, and that the truth about Ava and Winnie – from who they are and the details of how their business works to the culture that has them both shaped – is much more complicated than it seems at first glance. In many ways, readers are as much of a brand as any of the people who might accidentally buy a superfake Birkin at their local Herme store. Who you believe, as well as what you think of their motives, will likely change many times throughout the story, and until the last page, you won’t quite know who or who isn’t telling the truth. (Spoiler alert: the answer is nobody, not really, but it all makes sense in the end.)

counterfeit made the list as one of our must-have summer thrillers, and in truth, it’s an absolutely perfect beach or poolside escape adventure that’s snarky, funny, and clever by turns. You’ll go through all of this in an afternoon and might think twice the next time you find yourself in a high-end store.

is available now.

Lacy Baugher Milas is the editor of Paste Magazine, but loves to dabble in all kinds of pop culture. You can find her on Twitter @LacyMB.

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