BY DAPHNE LEE
Doubt & Bitter
Publisher: Merpati Jingga
Betrayal and revenge are the main themes explored in two short story collections by long-time journalist Bissme (who goes by one name).
These relentlessly miserable, casually violent tales of mean-spirited, ill-fated characters hell-bent on destruction of one kind or other are obviously meant to shock, but the outrageous details and denouements lose most of their kick from being repeated like clockwork.
Halfway through Doubt (published in 2013), the gristly, gory details, the small-minded petty axe-grinding ceases to make you gasp. You simply end up groaning, “No, not again!”
It’s the same with the recently-published Bitter. How many of the characters strip naked and walk into the sea? Just a couple, perhaps, but in a collection, that’s still one too many.
Also, what’s with every female character being called Malena? On encountering Malena the second time, I perked up because I rather like it when the same character pops up in several short stories. However, it turns out that the Malenas in Bitter are each a different person. What is the point of this? Is there even one? If so, I don’t get it. It just seems to me that the author couldn’t be bothered to think of different names.
Come to think of it, most of Bissme’s characters are nameless. I don’t see this as a problem, though, because in many cases, the premise of the story is original and powerful enough to render names unimportant. It’s the circumstances the characters find themselves in that are interesting, not the characters themselves. Unfortunately, the characters invariably end up acting predictably, just like the ones in the previous story, and the story before that.
It’s a shame, because Bissme is an engaging storyteller. His voice is emphatic, spontaneous, and defiant, somewhat flippant too.
The tone is just right for the shocking situations he describes. It’s like he’s daring the reader to protest; it’s like he’s laughing at your disbelief. “Up yours!” he seems to be saying. “You think this is bad? Just you wait!”
The thing is, while it does get worse – people behave increasingly monstrously, things get really twisted – it’s always the same kind of monsters and the same kind of twisted.
There needs to be more variety in the stories. The author needs to look more closely at what he starts, and think harder about the way things could develop. The possibilities are endless, but the way they repeat themselves in these two collections makes me think that the author is not making enough of an effort. He has a way to go as a writer, I feel, and I am excited to see him develop and grow.
Of course, Bissme has to want to reach his full potential. It’s really up to him to be the best writer he can be, and I hope his next collection shows him shining in ways that I believe he is fully capable of.
Daphne Lee is excited about the next Malaysian Fiction Book Club meeting. Family Values by Hadi M. Nor is the featured book and the author will be present to answer questions about his novel and other works of fiction. For more details, check out the club’s Facebook event page.