The idea of earned and unearned suffering is practically at the heart of this book, as narrated by its Chinese-American lady lawyer protagonist, Fiona Yu. Given that the other main theme of this book is serial murder, that’s hardly surprising. Fiona is one of those good people that bad things happen to. Sean Killroy/Deacon, Fiona’s childhood friend and Manic Pixie Dream Boy with a twist, is one of those killers who considers what he’s doing a service to the world, or as he puts it, “God’s work”. And the thing about that kind of killer, and the kind of people who stay friends with that kind of killer, is justifications. They live by them. They die by them. It’s almost as important as knowing how to cover your tracks.
The big thing about the book—and about Fiona’s mindset in general—is that it’s about the rules. Bad things happen to people who ask for them, even if the punishment isn’t exactly proportional to the crime. Except Fiona (though given she’s already got something of a fascination with serial killers, her good person status is somewhat questionable). Bad things happen to her—practically the only unearned suffering in the book. Her parents keep setting her up with dates with men she wants nothing to do with—she’s pretty much asexual, they’re exaggeratedly unsuitable anyway, and the parents only care about getting her married off. Her bosses go from bad to worse. Is it any wonder that instead of being one of the “ideal” Chinese-American girls she so despises, the “clawless, fangless, voiceless” Hello Kitties, she takes her old friend’s advice and starts fighting back?
The book has a high body count—exact names and numbers would be spoilers, but suffice it to say that all but three are at the hands of either Sean or Fiona, and all but one (natural causes) have some sort of justification as far as our main characters are concerned, one that fits with their idiosyncratic logic, the story’s logic. To help someone. In defense of one’s own autonomy/sanity. Because one does not suffer bullies to live. Because the victim broke a rule and should have known better. In story-logic, in Fiona-logic, all the suffering is earned, and the way Choi writes it, it’s very hard not to fall into that sort of logic, just for the length of the story. That—the balancing act that pulling this off requires—is what makes it so bizarrely interesting.
I may have to keep an eye out for her next one.