Archive for the ‘Prabda Yoon’ Category

Moving Parts

September 13, 2018

When Prabda Yoon’s The Sad Part Was was published last year it became one of the first Thai books to appear in English. Now the same publisher (Tilted Axis Press) and translator (Mui Poopopsakul) offer a second collection of Yoon’s stories, Moving Parts. The reappearance of ‘part’ in the title is coincidental to say the least, but here refers to the physical parts of the body. It is in this sense that each story is introduced as Part 1, Part 2, and so on – though discreet in plot and character, they combine, Frankenstein-like, the various parts of the body, from the finger of the first story through tongue, feet, hand, until we reach the end (the appropriately titled ‘Butt Plug’).

A strain of surrealism runs throughout most of the stories. In ‘Yucking Finger’, the protagonist, Maekee, is possessed of a finger which expresses its disgust by voicing the word ‘Yuck’, first heard when he is unable to complete a Maths equation for his teacher:

“From that moment on, whatever Maekee held or touched appeared tip be source of dissatisfaction for the finger, particularly if the situation involved an important matter in his life.”

Most of the stories focus on one scene, but ‘Yucking Finger’ follows Maekee through his life with the finger commenting in disgust at every moment of happiness: his marriage, his career as an architect, the house he designs and builds to live in with his wife. It is also unusual in having a more traditional, punchy ending as Yoon’s stories tend to avoid the need for a twist, reading instead like a scene extracted from a life which otherwise continues.

Elements of the surreal feature in two stories which focus on the rear. In ‘Mock Tail’ we encounter, with no explanation, a society in which it is normal to have a tail – so much so that when Shamada is born without one her father goes to great lengths so that no-one knows, buying a series of false or ‘mock’ tails as she grows older. Now she has reached a point in her relationship with her boyfriend, Komtal, where she has decided to sleep with him:

“For an average girl, the apprehension over losing her virginity couldn’t stray far from a certain body part that would be invaded and explored for the first time. But Shamada had a different body part that had been causing her distress deep inside for a long time… Shamada had no tail!”

Yoon juxtaposes Shamada’s thoughts on how she will tell her boyfriend (and how he will react) with Komtal watching ‘mock tail’ porn with a room-mate. In this way the story becomes a commentary on our attitudes towards sex and body shape. There is further social commentary in ‘Butt Plug’, where Paan suddenly witnesses a naked body falling past his window. When he looks down he sees the body but “not one single person was paying attention to this death.” He goes down to investigate, meeting two young women in the lift who seem upset. When he asks them if they are aware of the death they tell him their emotional state is the result of another matter entirely:

“My butt plug is no longer functioning, that’s what the doctor says.”

In the world of the story this is immediately accepted as matter of great distress. Yoon has deliberately picked something ridiculous to emphasise his point, made earlier:

“Each person’s attention meandered only within a small radius around him or her.”

‘Long Heart’ is technically a science fiction story, but, like all of Yoon’s work, is so grounded in the everyday that such a genre label is misleading. Its central character, BC, works for a company which has created an artificial heart which can prolong life. The story begins with him being dropped in the now derelict area where he was brought up. As a representative of technology and the future, he contrasts not only with his surroundings, but also with his background as his father was an antique dealer. In a sense the two men are connected – one preserves objects, the other people – but BC feels their view of life is very different:

“A clock that can no longer tell time has no use, of course, but what I helped build, it boosts the quality of life; it gives someone like me the opportunity to invent new things, to continue helping to develop the world for hundreds of years longer.”

In other stories it is physical deformities which are central – both for the man with dark glasses in ‘Eye Spy: a One-Act Play’ and the man in room seventeen in ‘Destiny’s a Dick’. In both, the story tells of the discovery of what is unusual about them by a young woman, though these are not stories of revelation where characters suddenly develop insight. Yoon’s characters are generally ordinary people who are not looking to examine their lives too closely.

Moving Parts is a collection of short stories which is at once playful and serious. It uncovers the everyday lives of its characters from strange angles in a way that is at once distinctive and recognisable. Tilted Axis and Mui Poopopsakul should be congratulated on bring this writer to an English-speaking audience.

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