Cara Lockwood – She Isn’t Whistling Dixie!

Look for Cara Lockwood’s novel, and you might find it under “humor,” “romance,” or “chick lit,” but Dixieland Sushi is that and so much more. If categories must be applied, let’s just say it’s ”chick lit” with depth.

In Dixieland Sushi, Jen Nakamura Taylor, a half-Japanese heroine raised in the south, travels back to her hometown of Dixieland, Arkansas to face the wedding of her cousin and her elementary school crush, Kevin Peterson. The author effortlessly shifts between the past and present life of Jen Nakamura Taylor.

Lockwood’s own upbringing in the south and her Japanese American background provide the basis for the flashbacks to Jen’s childhood. In an interview with the Museum Store Online, Lockwood commented about writing in two different time frames: “The flashbacks were more challenging, if only because I wanted them to be accurate in terms of time and place, to evoke some nostalgia from the reader, and to relate to the present-day story. But at the same time, the flashbacks were probably the most fun to write, because I got to relive some moments from my childhood.”

In Jen Nakamura Taylor’s current life, she is unmarried and currently unattached, so she recruits the help of her charming British friend, Nigel Riley, to pose as her ”stand-in“ boyfriend so that she can face being a bridesmaid in her cousin’s wedding. Even though it has been said that one cannot go home again, Jen does, experiencing both the expected awkwardness and the unexpected joys of returning home and reconnecting with friends, family, and childhood memories.

Through details woven into the lives of the characters, some readers might learn a little more about Japanese American history—the camps, redress, and veterans. In fact, Cara Lockwood, not surprisingly, has given her Japanese heritage quite a bit of thought. When asked about the references she makes to serious Japanese American issues in a book like Dixieland Sushi with its mostly humorous take on life, Lockwood responded, “I think when discussing the Japanese American experience in America, you can’t ignore internment. And there’s nothing about it that’s funny or humorous, but I felt I had to include the internment and redress if only because it’s such an integral part of our history in this country. It pervades our family dynamic in subtle, but definitive ways. For example, in Jen’s family, and in my own, there was a desire to leave California because of the prejudice there that lead to internment and relocation. I think there’s also a strong desire to try to blend in and assimilate in Jen’s family and in mine as a result of the internment camps. Every immigrant family faces a certain pressure to assimilate, but I think the internment experience affected my grandparents and parents in a profound way. I also feel that life is both humorous and sad, and that it’s not necessary to completely divide the two. I think about my own relatives, and how they use humor to get through difficult times. Life is made up of both, so I think it makes sense to include some sadness, even in a book that’s humorous in nature.”

Readers have responded positively to the book on all levels. From the feedback she has received, Lockwood observed, “I think that for many non-Japanese Americans, the humor in this book made it more accessible to them. I’ve had letters and emails from non-Japanese readers who have said they were drawn in by the humor, and then ended up learning something they didn’t know about our experience. In many ways, I think humor can disarm a skeptical or reluctant reader.”

Dixieland Sushi offers so much to its readers on so many levels. The 1980s trivia will make readers smile. Women—whether single or married—will relish the hilarious scenes from Lucy’s wedding. And, everyone will be able to identify with the insecurities of childhood that are a universal part of growing up and the way those insecurities resurface in our adult lives when we are around family and friends who knew us during those awkward periods of growth.

Cara Lockwood, in discussing her own reaction to writing the novel, suggests the cathartic effect Dixieland Sushi will have on its readers. “Throughout the book, I tried to find humor in situations inspired by my own (sometimes painful) experiences. This approach was in many ways cathartic, because I think if you can find the humor in difficult situations then you’re closer to putting them in a context that is manageable for you. It means defining your memories, rather than letting your memories define you.” Dixieland Sushi “chick lit”? It could be—but it’s really that and so much more!

February 2006

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