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Fiction Asian American

Sophie Go's Lonely Hearts Club

by (author) Roselle Lim

Publisher
Penguin Publishing Group
Initial publish date
Aug 2022
Category
Asian American, Magical Realism, Contemporary Women
  • Paperback / softback

    ISBN
    9780593335611
    Publish Date
    Aug 2022
    List Price
    $23.00

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Description

A new heartfelt novel about the power of loneliness and the strength of love that overcomes it by critically acclaimed author Roselle Lim.

Newly minted professional matchmaker Sophie Go has returned to Toronto, her hometown, after spending three years in Shanghai. Her job is made quite difficult, however, when she is revealed as a fraud—she never actually graduated from matchmaking school. In a competitive market like Toronto, no one wants to take a chance on an inexperienced and unaccredited matchmaker, and soon Sophie becomes an outcast.

In dire search of clients, Sophie stumbles upon a secret club within her condo complex: the Old Ducks, seven septuagenarian Chinese bachelors who never found love. Somehow, she convinces them to hire her, but her matchmaking skills are put to the test as she learns the depths of loneliness, heartbreak, and love by attempting to make the hardest matches of her life.

About the author

Contributor Notes

Roselle Lim is the critically acclaimed author of Natalie Tan’s Book of Luck and Fortune, Vanessa Yu’s Magical Paris Tea Shop and the upcoming Sophie Go’s Lonely Hearts Club. She lives on the north shore of Lake Erie and always has an artistic project on the go.

Excerpt: Sophie Go's Lonely Hearts Club (by (author) Roselle Lim)

Chapter One

 

I wanted a parade: a procession of acrobatic chipmunks, dancing squirrels, and a bagpipe band of red pandas and ferrets, complete with oversize balloon animals hovering overhead and intermittent bursts of edible sour string confetti.

 

Instead, I settled for my pen's succinct scratch across the contract of my first apartment lease, accompanied by the firm handshake of the property manager.

 

After exiting her office, I withdrew the translucent bag of sour gummy worms from my pocket and popped a yellow-and-green one in my mouth.

 

Loneliness was a disease. A matchmaker was its cure, salvation, and babysitter. I, a newly minted matchmaker, had returned home. My calling-my responsibility-was to tend to the romantic needs of this large city.

 

Toronto's previous matchmaker, Madam Chieng, had presided for six decades. I'd had the pleasure of meeting with her a few times, and she came across as the perfect balance of force and finesse-depending on what the situation or match called for. She had encouraged me to go to Shanghai for schooling and anointed me as her eventual successor. With her passing three years ago, and my return, I claimed Toronto as my territory and filled the vacancy.

 

Large glass windows illuminated the small, round lobby of the Strawberry Fields condominium complex and the swirling blue mosaic marble floor. I was under the impression we were goldfish in a fishbowl left in the sunlight: jackets and coats swishing like fantails as our bulging eyes spied on fellow neighbors.

 

A Chinese woman with white permed hair styled in a rounded pyramid-shaped bob crisped at the edges approached me. This, paired with her large dark brown eyes, gave her the air of an inquisitive bichon frise. "Hello, are you the matchmaker who arrived from Shanghai?"

 

"Yes, I'm Sophie Go. Pleased to meet you."

 

"I'm Mabel." She called to another woman wearing a faux fur coat and an even puffier perm, hers dyed chocolate brown. "And this is my friend Flora."

 

Flora smiled. "Are you taking on clients yet?"

 

Immaterial spindly red threads, visible to a matchmaker, dangled unconnected from their hearts to their waists. The gauntness of their threads contrasted against a passing couple's plump linked one. These women were starving for love. The thinness reflected the extent of one's longing for romance, though not everyone wanted romantic love. So many full threads were left unmatched.

 

The first time I saw the red threads, I'd thought they were the most beautiful, ethereal sight. Now I overlooked their beauty for their information. The threads joining several couples together glowed in varying red shades with knots of differing size. Each knot indicated the kinds of turmoil or hardship the relationship had undergone. Every tone, every place in the color spectrum, expressed the relationship's duration to the day. My fingers itched to unravel every tangle-from a tiny snag to a Gordian knot.

 

Ever since I was young, I wanted to connect people together. The instinct to solve puzzles came naturally, and matchmaking, by extension, was a giant game with rewards-love and happiness, and the power to affect lives for the better. My favorite fairy tale had always been Cinderella, as the Fairy Godmother was the most powerful figure. She was a matchmaker, and I wanted to be like her.

 

My reasons, however, weren't wholly altruistic. Matchmaking was my permanent ticket away from my mother and into a life where loneliness wasn't a constant companion. It meant freedom-physical, financial, and in every sense of the word. I'd waited for this moment since my gift emerged when I was six years old.

 

Loneliness was only a problem if you acknowledged it.

 

If I had a thread, I imagined it to be full and unattached; as thick as a herringbone braid. But that choice wasn't mine to make. Madam Chieng told me during our first conversation that romance couldn't be a part of our lives because we guided its course.

 

"Not yet, but soon." I reached into my pocket to fish out two business cards. "Please feel free to contact me."

 

"Oh, we will. This is so exciting!" Mabel held my card with the care of a child clutching her new favorite toy. "Are you visiting here for a consultation?"

 

"No. I've just signed my lease. I'm living here now."

 

The two women giggled and whispered to each other. Unlike unwanted amateur efforts from busybody relatives, a successful professional matchmaker commanded a seat of honor at any gathering with a client list spanning generations.

 

It was the joy and privilege for new matchmakers to establish their own individual client list by forging bonds in the community.

 

"Please feel free to tell your friends." I handed them two more cards.

 

"Oh, we shall. Have a wonderful day." Flora accepted the additional cards while Mabel waved goodbye. The pair walked away with brisk steps punctuated by excited chatter.

 

And so it began. Word of mouth always worked in a matchmaker's favor. The integrity of my reputation relied on the tongues of others: testimonials, referrals, and even juicy gossip. I wanted to make lasting connections, exude reliability, and transcend my position: matching the unmatchable and even going as far as to fix the pesky knots of marriages. Madam Chieng was the best-I aspired to be even better. She had been so kind, and even though I had met with her fewer than a dozen times, I missed her. The last time was her funeral two weeks before I kept my word and left for Shanghai. Saying goodbye then was difficult, but I'd made a promise to her that I'd be a master matchmaker one day.

 

I pulled out my apartment keys. My new place was on the second floor, and most days I'd prefer the stairs, but no grandeur lay in taking that route today-not for my first entrance to my own place.

 

While waiting for the elevator, I noticed my presence had skewed the age range of the building down. Most of my fellow residents were past their prime-they moved like a snowy- or silver-haired human forest dotted with the occasional bald pates. Every once in a while, puffy, cloudlike perms hovering over smooth scalps arrived in clusters in the lobby.

 

I'd had an Audrey Hepburn-inspired pixie-cut and color done in Shanghai; a drastic change from the blunt shoulder-length bob I'd worn all my life. The Korean stylist assured me that it highlighted my high cheekbones and overall bone structure. She also insisted that short hair was conducive to my low-maintenance preference, that it would grow out beautifully, and that-if all else failed-a little bit of gel and a collection of headbands would be a great help.

 

The sharp ding of the elevator's bell echoed in the lobby. I stepped inside and stabbed the Close Door button with my index finger. Fishing another sour gummy worm from my pocket, I slurped it as if it were a spaghetti noodle. Being the single occupant of the lift afforded me the privacy for a brief celebratory shimmy before the doors opened to the second floor.

 

When I had returned to Toronto a week ago, I came back to my old bedroom at my family home, but I no longer belonged there. I had lived on my own in Shanghai; it was possible to live without interference, judgment, or unwanted demands from my mother. Independence was the headiest drug, and I was hooked, but I was afraid that if I squeezed too tight that it would burst and disintegrate.

 

Having my own apartment had been a dream come true in Shanghai, but the true test was setting up shop here in the city and holding on to the independence I craved. This was the culmination of years of crying myself to sleep. I was free and I had my own space.

 

Freedom came in the form of playing the Beatles aloud instead of resorting to earphones, eating when and what I wanted instead of waiting for approval or permission, locking my own door instead of facing accusations of secrecy, and the luxury to answer only to myself for any decisions no matter how minute.

 

Apartment 2E was a short stroll away from the elevators.

 

I turned the key and opened the door to my place: twelve hundred square feet of heaven with two bedrooms, one bath, and a kitchenette. Three thousand dollars a month for rent, a bargain for the Greater Toronto Area. I had saved around twenty thousand from my three-year stint in Shanghai, which covered only six months of rent on this "bargain." One hundred and eighty-three days. I would cherish each one.

 

The common area and the kitchenette's hardwood floors gleamed from the afternoon sun shining through the large windows overlooking a busy intersection. It was an empty space brimming with possibilities. I had ordered my furniture ahead of time with the delivery for late afternoon and early evening: a microwave, a small fridge, a daybed, and a desk with a chair. Frugality was my interior design aesthetic.

 

A small basket of clementines sat on the counter with a red balloon tied to its handle. The card was from my property manager. I loosened the balloon from the basket and wrapped its string around my wrist. I walked to the windows with the red bubble trailing behind me on its ribbon leash.

 

This was all I needed.

 

Freedom.

 

My coat pocket, the one without the baggie of gummy worms, buzzed. I pulled my phone out and checked the screen.

 

My red balloon popped.

 

It was my mother.

 

Chapter Two

 

Calls from my mother always brought belly cramps. Even now as my finger hovered to press the button to accept, churning acids sloshed against the delicate lining of my stomach. Yanmei, my roommate and classmate in Shanghai, once equated my mother's check-ins to a nonconsensual enema.

 

I steadied myself by leaning against the counter. The clamminess of my hands left smudges on the dark glass.

 

With my voice pitched higher and coated with manufactured cheeriness developed over years of practice, I answered the call. "Hi, Mom! I've been meaning to call you back."

 

"No, you haven't. If you had, you would have called already. Don't lie. You know how much I hate lies." My stomach clenched at the accusatory tone in her voice.

 

"I'm sorry."

 

"How is the job hunting going?"

 

"I have two leads." Flora and Mabel from the lobby.

 

"You wouldn't have such trouble if you had returned to work at the bank. They would have taken you back."

 

The data entry department, where blank-eyed zombies crouched in rows of lidless boxes in the dark, windowless basement, was where I'd worked for the last five years leading up to matchmaking school. The steady money was a bit more than retail and paid for my trip to Shanghai. I had no desire to return to the odious chorus of finger tapping. I was grateful for what it provided at the time, but it had never held any joy for me.

 

Matchmaking was my career.

 

Nothing else in the world made me feel as special. This was a rare gift, an honored calling. My soon-to-be lucrative salary and longevity rivaled prized professionals like doctors and lawyers. Walking into a room elicited reverence, respect, and recognition. In most households, the discovery of a matchmaker was met with rejoicing. But not in mine.

 

I would bring people together, create happiness where none existed before. Because of its scarcity, the gift of joy accompanied by romantic love exceeded any monetary or material equivalent.

 

I'd never thought about doing anything else. I had no backup plans. My mother couldn't take this away from me.

 

Any parent would be happy to have a child with this profession, yet Mom had been dead set against it from the beginning. She reasoned that it was an impractical vocation with no guarantees of stability. She feared that I'd waste my time and hers, only to fail. Mother always thought she knew best, but she didn't-not when it came to me and my life . . . or abilities.

 

"What I'm looking at is better than the data entry job. More money."

 

"Oh." I noted the audible click of my mother's mood change. "Be home for dinner tonight. Your father missed you last night. I'm cooking your favorite: salted duck egg congee. Don't be late."

 

My furniture delivery would need to be rescheduled to tomorrow. I snuffed the groan that was building in my throat. "I won't."

 

"Love you."

 

"Love you," I echoed.

 

An aborted sigh escaped my lips until my lungs were drained of air. I released my grip on my phone and lowered myself to the floor, gathering the scattered pieces of tattered latex: the remnants of the exploded balloon. As soon as I was done, my stomach finished its revolt and I headed for the bathroom.

 

They didn't know I was moving out. All of my possessions were still at my childhood home.

 

You couldn't choose your parents.

 

You had to cherish the ones you had.

 

They loved you and you loved them.

 

 

Without delays on the major highways, my parentÕs house was a thirty-five minute drive south to Scarborough. The snarls of Toronto traffic turned lanes into amusement park waiting lines regardless of the time of day. I came equipped with Abbey Road, Revolver, and Rubber Soul.

 

Where some people escaped into books or television, I drowned myself in music: the strings of George's guitar, the steadiness of Ringo's drum line, and the complementary vocals of Paul and John. Ringo and George were my favorites, but if I had to choose, I'd pick Ringo. His quiet personality called to me. I'd always been drawn to those whose talents dwarfed their egos.

 

Driving through the neighborhoods with their old shade trees, cozy parks, and dated plazas, I marveled at how much had changed, and yet how much remained as I remembered from childhood-the multigenerational families crammed inside two-bedroom homes stacked like bento boxes.

 

I arrived at my parents' two-story semidetached house ten minutes early for the seven o'clock deadline, but five minutes too late according to my mother's timer. The measure of time differed per person. A minute might mean sixty long, languid seconds for one, but for another, a heartbeat. The passage of time brought elation (when you were having fun) to some and misery (when you weren't) to others.

 

After emptying my pockets of candy, I assessed my reflection in the rearview mirror. In my house, tardiness was mistaken for laziness, and both were considered cardinal sins-ones I was condemned for.

 

I slammed shut the door of my ten-year-old Honda Civic and hustled inside. My mother and father were already waiting in the living room. After hanging up my jacket in the hall closet, removing my boots, and putting on house slippers, I greeted them with hugs and kisses on the cheek, sprinkled with profuse apologies.

Editorial Reviews

"With a vivid setting, a lovable heroine, and a supporting cast of unforgettable characters, Roselle Lim’s new novel about magical matchmaking sparkles. I was enchanted by this delightful tale about family, friendship, and the redemptive power of love." —Emily Giffin, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Meant to Be

"Lim’s third novel is a heartfelt exploration of the facets of love and found families. You’ll fall in love with the charming Old Ducks."—Helen Hoang, New York Times bestselling author of The Heart Principle

"This heartfelt and touching read tackles the loneliness we face when we’re dedicated to helping others feel less lonely."—Women.com

"A delightfully sweet treat made of love, family, and second chances!"—Sara Wolf, New York Times bestselling author of the Bring Me Their Hearts series

“This engaging book takes a close look at love, friendship, sorrow, loss, and responsibilities to family—both the family members you are born with and the family members that you find. Personality quirks are embraced in this delightful story about seeking—and finding—love even if you need help along the way.”—Kirkus Reviews, starred review

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