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[237] Fixer Chao – Han Ong


“I had entered this world of privilege where the people had taken me in as one of their own, and had been entirely comfortable divesting themselves of ugly things in my presence. These people, in my imagination, lived in a glass bubble filled with money, aerated and sent flying in all directions.” [100]

Never say never. This book surprises me in a positive manner. It is eclectic and appealingly skewed. The premise of the book does not make a good first impression: a writer who is ostracized by New York literati recruits William Paulinha, a Filipino street hustler, to retaliate against the privileged society that has slighted him. Shem C., the embittered writer, is to have William pretend to be Feng Shui master who would fix those who spurn him harm. As the material benefits that have long been due William become reality, the novel also evokes in me a recent scandal in Hong Kong in which a Feng Shui master who has insinuated a wealthy family seeks to inveigle the inheritance. At the recall of the true incident I’m more than piqued to see how Fixer Chao will play out. at its course. The book does outstrip my expectation—it is both entertaining and literary.

In between bouts of pretend-wisdom which he declaims with folksy gravity to the owners, have the young man, physically unrecognizable from his former life, have this new young man, in a voice-over, wonder which of the several items he sees in these various houses he could safely make away with to sell later on . . . [133]

William doesn’t have the scruple for the hoax. In fact, he looks at it as a negative heroism—to turn the tenets of social order against itself. By satisfying the desire of these shallow and overprivileged people for inoculation, he realizes their huge crush on the Asian practice in pursuit for peace and prosperity and the desire to be part of the growing hipness are much better than what he first believes. These people pay him a fortune to fix their homes so they can be rid of moral and civil responsibilities in their lives.

The thing about crime, I thought to myself as the elevator doors closed, the thing that nobody believes anymore in this day and age of smarts and cynicism and toughness, is how foolish the fools can still be. [154]

With an acerbic and edgy voice, Han Ong delivers a wickedly knowing satire that skewers the folly and absurdity of those who live careless lives and believe they can repair their ugly souls with money. Soul plastic surgeon Ong aliases his protagonist. Ong has adroitly drawn on social sources that encompass immigration, homosexuality, interracial and intraracial discrimination, and living the American dream to explore the slippery natures of privilege and expertise. The ingenuity of Fixer Chao lays in the fact that the self-informed William Paulinha is forced to foray back and forth between truth and lie, sort of like an unreliable narrator, but only unbeknownst to the other characters. The title is highly allusive and pun-intended, for the spelling of Chao, a Chinese surname, is one letter short of the word chaos. Whereas Feng Shui concerns with the arrangement of a house that is instrumental in determining fortunes and peace, what William does is to reverse that magic, thus rendering chaos. It’s a clever musing on how people deceive and are deceived over and over again.

377 pp. [Read/Skim/Toss]


One Response

  1. […] have read without someone’s specific recommendation? A Visitation of Spirits by Randall Kenan, Fixer Chao by Han Ong, The Jane Austen Book Club by Karen Joy Fowler, The 19th Wife by David Ebershoff (a TLC […]

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