The Fortunes of Jaded Women
The Fortunes of Jaded Women is a funny, fast-paced book that’s only slightly marred by the fact that it has nine PoV characters, sometimes making the incredibly winding tale overly complex.
Thousands of years ago, a jealous ex-mother-in-law cursed her former daughter-in-law to forever bear daughters and never know love or happiness in life, and the Duong family has been suffering ever since. Per Vietnamese culture, that traps the spirits of the Duongs’ ancestors in purgatory forever. But the curse has held true for generations. Oanh left her marriage for love, a witch provided the curse, and now every time a Duong embarks upon a love affair it is destined to end poorly.
Mai Nguyen, Minh Pham and Khuyen Lam are the second most recent generation of the Duong dynasty. Mai is a hypochondriac, bitterly divorced from a man who sucked her dry financially and equally bitterly estranged from her sisters. Minh is the put-upon middle child who clings to her only daughter, and Khuyen is an entrepreneur who may or may not be a figure from the criminal underworld in Orange County’s Little Saigon (not a pimp, she insists violently whenever her sisters suggest she is). All three women are estranged from their mother, Ly, who has lost both her first husband and her eldest daughter. But their other sister Kim has returned to the fold along with her own two daughters in tow, and she resumes her place as Ly’s favorite daughter. It’s Kim and her daughters who have inherited Ly’s coveted Santa Ana house and all four live on top of one another.
Mai has three daughters – eldest Priscilla (who’s very rich and a programmer), middle child Thuy (a dermatologist to the stars – including John Cho, as Mai often brags), and youngest Thảo, who returned to Vietnam and is an executive at a fashion company. Minh has a daughter named Joyce, an anthropologist and museum curator whom the other sisters accuse Minh of babying and who has recently moved to New York to escape her mother. Khuyen has two daughters Elaine and Christine; Elaine runs Khuyen’s coffee bars and Christine runs her nail salons. Elaine is an alcoholic who is well aware of her mother’s underground business and Christine is a martyr figure who wants to get out of California. And Kim’s daughters are Lily – a romantic research assistant – and Rosie, a wild, joint-smoking rebel with no particular direction in life. All of these young women are generally successful in their careers but are all romantically lovelorn.
Mai, who put her kids through UCLA with no help, is desperate enough about her own love life to consult with her psychic, Auntie Hứa, who promptly delivers a shocking announcement: if Mai is not careful, this could be the year she loses everything. It could also be the year the family will see the long-awaited birth of a son, but it will bury one of its own. And there will also be a wedding, all before the turn of the next lunar year.
The revelation sends Mai into a tizzy, putting her on a crash-course reunion with Minh and Khuyen and their daughters. But who will be visited by death, and who by marital good luck? Priscilla has a handsome boyfriend named Mark, with whom she is less than pleased and whom her mother hates; Thuy has a relationship with the adorable and sweet Andy Tran, who is always eager to help and please her but whom Mai hates; she’s cheating on him with Daniel Le, the son of a friend of her mother’s whom Mai tried to hook her up with. Thuy breaks up with Andy and pursues Daniel and her gambling addiction; and Thảo, who’s in a causal relationship with a man named Jeff, whom Elaine is also doing business with (arranging green card marriages), and thinks she’s found true love with, and whom Priscilla has recently broken up with. Khuyen has kept Elaine and Christine incredibly close to her, and thus they haven’t had the chance to branch out – Elaine is a bitter alcoholic who resents her rich, “white chasing” cousins and is flirty with Jeff while Lily still carries a torch for Peter, who works in Hong Kong.
This is a lot of story, and it’s generally a wild good time. The Fortunes of Jaded Women follows a variety of women who are trying to figure out what this momentous year is really going to mean to them. It’s classic women’s fiction, writ large. There’s even some magical realism to be had in the book’s thick mix of humor, soap and family warmth. It is incredibly easy to devour, but so much is going on.
Out of the sea of characters, I loved Rosie the most because she has absolutely no damns to give. My favorite romance is the one between Andy and Thuy, which is tender and sweet.
The only reason I marked the book down is because with thirteen (!!) PoV characters, there’s way too much going on and the book is far too brief to properly cover everything readers might need or want to know about everyone. Add on boyfriends to the pile and you have way too many threads to keep track of. And yet trying to track every setback and triumph is worthwhile, because this is quite a readable tome. The Fortunes of Jaded Women comes with a solid recommendation.
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Lisa Fernandes is a writer, reviewer and recapper who lives somewhere on the East Coast. Formerly employed by Firefox.org and Next Projection, she also currently contributes to Women Write About Comics. Read her blog at http://thatbouviergirl.blogspot.com/, follow her on Twitter at http://twitter.com/thatbouviergirl or contribute to her Patreon at https://www.patreon.com/MissyvsEvilDead or her Ko-Fi at ko-fi.com/missmelbouvier