Flesh, the second book in the Fixi Novo triptych that began with Heat and ends with Trash, explores the engrossing ideas that are invoked by thinking about flesh, here in South-East Asia. The set of books looks to collect stories that are unique to this region, along with all the baggage – mostly real, some imagined – that goes with living in this tropical, hot, mad climate.
Flesh starts off a little slowly with Teo Yin Han’s “If You’re Happy And You Know It Clap Your Hands”, a story about love and loss, then picks up pace with “Flesh And Family In Phnom Penh” by Sokunthary Svay. She writes about going back to her roots and eventually gaining an understanding of who she is with this meditation on the traditional Cambodian beef stew, Kor Sach Koh. Svay’s prose is light yet literary, and she presses home her points without being too forceful about them, with a sort of nirvanic grace.
The rest of the book mostly sticks to a well-defined middle ground, with only a few stories rising above the fray, while others seem to dip below the baseline to varying degrees of readability.
One of these unfortunate underperformers is Yeyet Soriano’s “He Loves Me … Not”. Soriano writes well and chooses her words carefully but the story falls short with the ridiculous plot. The protagonist is in a relationship with a man who cannot tell her that he loves her. They go through life deliberately telling each other and their children that they don’t love them. It becomes increasingly apparent that this was not well thought out, and clumsily executed. While I can understand what the author is trying to convey, and if I squint, I can just about make out a decent plot in the distance, I found everything in this story tiresome and exaggerated. I did not care for it.
On the opposite end of the spectrum is the well written, almost cute (if it weren’t horrifying) “The Whole Hog” by Terence Toh (disclosure: Toh is a Star2 journalist), and Ari Abraham’s vivid “Tempoyak”.
In the former, the author writes about a pig farm used for criminal enterprise, and in the latter, Abraham writes about a woman who satiates her carnal addictions with an unhealthy craving for durians. “Tempoyak” is exceptional, a rush of words that helps to realise the flood of emotion and desire that addiction and release bring, even if it does leave you feeling slightly dirty and voyeuristic at the end.
I enjoyed most of the stories in this book and feel that it holds up well, or even surpasses the quality of the first book in the set, Heat. I heartily recommend for mature (or maturing) readers.
Editors: Cassandra Khaw & Angeline Woon
Publisher: Fixi Novo, fiction