Short Stories 366:345 — “A Fake Girlfriend for Chinese New Year,” by Jackie Lau

coverOkay, I swear the further and further I delve into the Wong siblings, the more I actually have it in me to consider a small Ontario town like the made-up Mosquito Bay to potentially, maybe, offer something in the way of charm. This is what Jackie Lau has done to me! I never knew it was possible. Okay, I kid (somewhat) but as I read my way through her Holidays with the Wongs series, each novella leaves me grinning, and “A Fake Girlfriend for Chinese New Year” is no exception. First off, the books all generally start their spin from the Thanksgiving events where the grandparents decided to meddle with the four single grandchildren and invite dates for all of them to Thanksgiving. It went about as well as you could expect (though they did manage to invite one woman who did fall in love with a Wong, but it wasn’t the man they invited her to meet). As a result, the remaining single brothers and sister all seem to have come up with a plan to make sure they’re not hit with yet another blind date, and in the case of Zach, his plan is simple: fill the position with a fake candidate.

Zach is a teacher, and of the four siblings, the only one who sees the charm and came back to live in Mosquito Bay; with the awareness that of his brothers he’s the one that passes in the far-from-diverse town, there’s some really wonderfully written discussions underlying that impact. He also had a serious relationship that ended when his fiancée admitted that Mosquito Bay wasn’t going to cut it for her (and thus, neither was he), and at that point, Zach swore off relationships. His friendship with Jo is very much based on this broken relationship—they bonded when Jo kicked her ex to the curb after realizing he didn’t prioritize her in the least and she was settling for “meh”—and they’ve been drinking and hockey-playing buds ever since. Except, of course, Jo realized a few years ago now that she absolutely has a crush on Zach, who has sworn off relationships.

When Zach presents his plan to Jo—would she mind faking being his girlfriend for a couple of weeks leading up to Chinese New Year so his family backs the heck off?—she agrees, and then the two start “dating” (all the better to make it seem realistic come the actual holiday) and… well. It’s a romance novella. Both of them start to realize just how much they feel about each other, and their hometown, and their situations, and ultimately? You get the happy-ever-after you’re promised in the genre. I also want do say I loved the humour in this episode of the quartet—some of it slapstick, some of it situational—and I’ll probably chuckle at mentions of Pictionary for the rest of my life.

I asked Jackie Lau if she’d mind telling us where the story ideas came from. Here’s the scoop:

There are lots of Christmas romances, but not many for the Lunar New Year (though there are certainly others out there!), so I decided to write one. In my family, basically all we do is eat and give out red envelopes, but the family in this novella has a Chinese New Year Pictionary tradition as well. This book also touches on small-town Chinese-Canadian restaurants, and I read Ann Hui’s Chop Suey Nation for inspiration there.

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