Growing up in Subang Jaya, Selangor, I always considered myself a Petaling Jaya girl as it wasn’t until 1997 that my hometown became a municipality of its own. As such, I was quite looking forward to checking out this latest city-specific short story anthology from Fixi Novo that centres on “my” town. I was also looking forward to the noir-type stories that the title, PJ Confidential, led me to anticipate.
I could recognise many of the PJ-related inspirations behind the stories. For example, we have any town’s unwanted animal residents – rats and stray dogs – represented in the first two stories, Angeline Woon’s The Rats of SS2 and Stray by Linges. Unfortunately for my noir expectations, though they did have a bit of a mystery to them, they were primarily supernaturally influenced stories. That was the case for most of the other stories.
There are also specific locations represented in the stories, like Amcorp Mall in Amcorpichrist by Marco Ferrarese, the “old money” area of Bukit Gasing in Heidi Shamsuddin’s Neighbourhood Watch and Tan Jee Yee’s Desire Is A House In Bukit Gasing, and PJ’s industrial areas in City As A Mammary by Lee Ee Leen, the sole sci-fi effort in the collection.
Those familiar with Ferrarese’s writing will recognise his favourite death metal punk theme, and disturbingly inappropriate and often random descriptive turn of phrase.
Meanwhile, Neil Gaiman fans will recognise Tan’s appropriation of one of his Endless characters, not to mention one of his book titles, for her story about (heh!) desire.
Other stories like Leon Wing’s The Outing, Chris Quah’s Snatch Me If You Can, Tilon Sagulu’s The Dance Of God, Catalina Rembuyan’s The Sick Man And The Satellite, William Tham Wai Liang’s How Not To Forget and Foo Sek Han’s Nik Needs A Nick tackle familiar Malaysian urban issues.
Not all of them are serious either, with Foo’s lighter but sometimes excruciating running gag of puns.
Author Masami Mustaza also took a lighter tone, combining the hipster cafe trend and underwear thieves, in A Pocketful Of Pie.
Unfortunately, she didn’t make any effort to integrate them, resulting in two completely separate stories that only connected on the most superficial level. Meanwhile, Timothy Nakayama gives us a classic Western pop-culture representation of the Devil offering a deal, but to a typical young Malaysian professional leading a lonely, stressful life. This story is rather jarring as the Western-Malaysian concepts didn’t mesh well for me. Plus I didn’t quite see the point of the story’s reveal.
May Chong, in the final story Flush, presents a concept known to most Malaysian students, especially those from mission schools: the ghost in the toilet. This was a rather confusing effort as Chong tries to give an unexpected, but not well-executed, twist to the tale.
Overall, the story ideas are interesting in concept and cover a wide enough range to make the collection diverse. However, I felt that many of the stories could have used a tighter editorial eye in order to make more sense. For example, Neighbourhood Watch centres around an old and dying Datin who apparently instigates two of her neighbours to kill each other. Not only is the Datin’s motivation not well-explained, but also how the murders come about seems more coincidental than conniving.
The writing, though, was quite good. But at the end, did I feel the spirit of PJ living in this book? Can’t say I did – maybe I’m too much a Subang Jaya girl at heart, after all.
Terence Toh is a writer with Star2.
Editor: Terence Toh
Publisher: Fixi Novo, fiction