TW: suicide, mental illness, sexual abuse
Fiona and Jane chronicles the lives of two friends as they navigate troubling romantic relationships, daddy issues, financial struggles, the mental and physical illnesses of their loved ones and Taiwanese-American identity. Jane is a bisexual writer attempting to grapple with the guilt of outing her father to her Christian mother after he revealed his affair with another man in Taiwan – an incident Jane believes to be the reason for his eventual suicide. Fiona is a charismatic law school dropout who moves away to New York and struggles with a series of unfaithful relationships with men as well as caring for a sick friend.
It is important to note that this book is not a novel, but a debut collection of stories about two characters, pieced together. Therefore, if you go into this read looking for a cohesive narrative, you will be disappointed. Rather, readers should be prepared for this book to dip in and out of each character’s life and jump forward rapidly at various points. Furthermore, although this story is presented as an exploration of female friendship, in actuality, we read about Fiona and Jane separately more often than we read about them together. This is not necessarily a con. In many ways, their separate storylines and character development craft a realistic depiction of long-term friendships. In reality, friends do change, grow apart and find their way back to each other over time.
The perspective alternates, switching from a third person view of Fiona’s life to a first person view of Jane’s. I found this to be an odd use of tone as it has the effect of crafting a better sense of interiority for Jane’s character, meaning that I felt more connected to Jane than Fiona. However, this may indeed be a clever meta choice in structure, as Jane’s character is the writer of the pair.
The novel is not PC at times; the characters joke about stereotypes and tensions amongst different Asian communities in America, and often behave problematically themselves. This is most evident in one of Jane’s chapters entitled ‘Korean Boys I’ve Loved’ in which Jane glosses over abusive sexual situations in a whistle-stop tour of her romantic failings which arises somewhat unexpectedly and disturbingly. That being said, this book seats itself comfortably amongst the current literature trend which is focused on exploring the mindset of complicated, unorthodox and unapologetic women. Overall, Fiona and Jane is an entertaining read that goes by quickly and easily despite its often difficult subject matter.
‘She paused again and held me in her gaze, soft as anything. I almost hated her then. I wanted to look away, but something made me stay there. Her eyes. All the years between us. I was protected, under her gaze.’ – Jean Chen Ho, Fiona and Jane, p.268
Author: Jean Chen Ho
Publisher: Viking Press USA, Penguin Random House