Relationships can be messy. For LGBTQIA+ folks in this society that does not fully embrace us, we sometimes come into relationships with varying levels of trauma, a lack of communication skills, and unhealthy coping mechanisms. But then, even though there are clear signs that the relationship is going poorly, we cling to it. Maybe it’s because the happy memories outweigh the painful ones. Maybe it’s because somewhere deep inside we think we won’t get anything better. Maybe it’s because we never learned how to have a healthy relationship with anyone, romantic or not. These aren’t unique to LGBTQIA+ relationships in the slightest, but it is something I’ve seen a lot. I’ve also seen how we often don’t get representation in media about reconciling after dating. And I can easily think of cases in which relationship guidance from others (whether they be friends or marriage counselors or what have you) is out of the question.
These are the things I thought about as I read Finna by queer and trans/nonbinary author, Nino Cipri, whose work I’ve reviewed once before this! It follows the story of Ava and her recent ex-partner, Jules, as they go off in search of an old woman who got lost in a wormhole in the middle of the popular Swedish furniture and home goods store (no, not the one you’re thinking) where they work. While jumping between dangerous worlds and narrowly leaping away from their own deaths (literally, at times), the two come to a new, tentative understanding of one another. In Finna, Cipri explores the very real situation of messy relationships through the lens of an absurdly terrifying (and sometimes comforting) multiverse of possibilities. But more than that, they show a path forward–one that doesn’t necessarily require a device to help navigate wormholes, but one that is incredibly important particularly to LGBTQIA+ communities.
Even though the plot is technically about finding the lost old woman, I would argue that it’s actually more about Ava and Jules’ relationship. I say this because although the reason they’re on shift together is because a co-worker called in sick, and although the reason they go together on this adventure is because their manager tells them to, it’s clear that there are a lot of other ways things could have gone if they were strangers. There’s a moment when they first find the portal that Jules is about to step right in, just to get away from all of the terrible things they have to deal with, and Ava stops them. And when Ava doesn’t want to continue and Jules offers to go ahead without her, it’s in part their bond that leads Ava to stay with Jules. But there are also times when their arguments cause them to be distracted or to act impulsively. Their decisions in these moments are what primarily drives the plot, even if their mission is technically supposed to be unrelated to their breakup. (In a kind of schadenfreudist way, it was really interesting to try to piece together from those moments why their relationship failed.)
It’s not something I noticed at first, but Cipri parallels their relationship with the physical problems they face. At the beginning, this connection happens with the weirdness and discomfort of seeing each other right after their break up and the weirdness and discomfort of the wormhole. I felt myself squirm as I read it, and I couldn’t quite tell if it was their relationship issues or the wormhole that caused it. Then, shortly after their first big fight of the trip in chapter 3, they find themselves in an incredibly dangerous universe (no spoilers, I promise!). But then, when they really think they’re about to die, and they have a heart-to-heart and come to some more understanding, they’re saved. But, like all complicated relationships, the decisions made in the past can really come to bite you in the ass later. Likewise, the dangers from a previous universe follow them and put them in an even more dangerous situation. This kind of parallel gives the readers a chance to subconsciously and emotionally connect with the struggles of building a platonic relationship after a messy break up. So even if the reader doesn’t have experience with break ups like this one, they can empathize through the multiverse Cipri built.
But like I said before, Finna isn’t just about the fact that Ava and Jules’ relationship failed. It’s about where to go from that point. And yeah, that’s going to be difficult at times, and it’s probably even going to be painful. But at the end of the day, Finna shows how worth it that journey is for Ava and Jules. The more they communicate and understand one another, the more they come to terms with why they’re better off as friends and teammates than romantic partners. And I was so glad to see that Finna didn’t do the thing I’ve seen so often with narratives where two characters had a rough break-up; their happily ever after didn’t involve getting back together. The thing is, Ava and Jules’ relationship failed because they didn’t fit each other in that way, and that’s okay. It’s possible to have a deeply profound relationship that’s not focused on romance and sex. And Cipri’s recognition of that is something that I think people need. There are alternatives to ghosting and avoidance (though I’ll note that there are times when those are necessary tactics to ensure one’s own mental health, as well as sometimes even physical health and safety). These alternatives are difficult and require effort, but they can lead to something new and better than before.
I loved this story–in part because of the message I laid out here, but also because I just love Cipri’s writing. They’re quippy and have great timing, and their characters and worlds are well-developed (I highkey would love to play a D&D game in this universe). I’ve already recommended this both to trans and cis friends alike, but I think trans people particularly will enjoy it because of some of the catharsis that can come from seeing Jules’ character progression. It was like that for me, at least! I’m probably going to be thinking about this book for a while, and I think its publication is rather timely. Aside from everything I’ve written here, there are a lot of parts of Finna that critique capitalism in ways that I think a lot of people can align themselves with, particularly right now with the current COVID19 crisis and the massive amounts of worker safety/ethics concerns that have been brought to center stage because of it. So if you’re looking for your next book, start with this one!
Finna by Nino Cipri
Number of Pages: 134
Content Warnings: Gore, anxiety, misgendering, depression, unhealthy relationship dynamics, blood, eldritch horrors, violence