Monday, October 31, 2011
The Stories They Don't Tell You
O Thiam Chin's newest book 'The Rest of Your Life and Everything That Comes With It' holds 12 short stories about the moments in people's lives. These stories aren't new in the sense that many have been written in 2009 and 2010, and have been separately published in journals and online portals. The book took everything and put into a collection of short stories.
Set in the Singapore context, I heaved a sigh of relief at the final turn of the page because it wasn't too colloquial and filled with the insularity typical of many Singapore writers. Now that I'm broadening the reads to Singapore books, it's been a pleasant journey so far. O Thiam Chin has a concise vision and writes to the point, without lingering on his 'Singaporean-ness' while not losing that uniquely local flavor.
'Yellow Elephant' leads the stories in the telling of a woman trapped in an unhappy marriage who saw the yellow elephant mysteriously appear in her living room one day. The appearance of the large beast in sunny yellow also signaled the departure of her husband who left her a curt note. The ending isn't exactly open to interpretation, but it's an emphasis of the future to come. Suspend all disbelief and let your imagination run.
In 'Patchwork', it tells of how a young couple went to get a patchwork blanket from her aunt to put up on the wall in the bedroom of their new flat. Of course it's never easy. It's not just a blanket, or to be relegated to a decorative piece if one hasn't found sufficient composure to manage the demons it comes along with or the skeletons in the cupboard.
"May Lee stopped in her tracks, the bag a burden in her hand. She finally had the blanket, the perfect piece of personal artefact to complete the home decor of their new flat, and now she had her doubts." Then, it moves slowly, inevitably to the end when they 'upgraded' and shifted house, and the forgotten patchwork blanket re-surfaces from the depths of the storeroom. "She took a long look at it, put it into the box together with the other recyclables, and brought it down to the void deck where the recycling bins were. She left it there, among other people's broken, abandoned possessions, turned her back and walked away, already the memory of the patchwork blanket slipping away from her mind."
The summary noted a story- "A single mother goes to great lengths to find out the terrible truth about her teenage son." I was really hoping it wouldn't be some stereotypical 'gay coming out' story. See my preconceived notions? So in 'What Are You Hiding?', it isn't too stereotypical. More to do with crime, parent-son relationship, and teenage angst.
"The night it happened, Kong came home after three in the morning. He moved like a large injured beast in the living room. Hearing the din of noises he was making, I went out to him in the dark, and saw him sprawled on the sofa, his limbs akimbo. His whole body reeked of beer. I detected something else - a stronger, malevolent smell - that stayed subtle under the alcoholic fumes."
Poignant, this is a good read about the many untold stories behind each apartment block, each unit, in the changing cultural and emotional landscape of a city. His recent prose in conjunction with Singapore Writers Festival (SWF) 2011's PasSAGES Unwound is 'You Are Always Here, All The Time'. I still shy away from some Singapore writers because I don't think their writing is incisive enough. It's not encouraging when I pick up a book, scan the summary, flip the pages and can more or less predict the story line, and the content. But over the past 2 weeks of the SWF 2011, I'm happy to have found some gems.