Fixi Novo, RM19.90, ISBN 978-967-0750-22-4
Contemporary Fiction, 2014
Meet Aizat. Almost 40, he still treats life as a ball. He inherited a successful chain of restaurants from his Atuk, and all he has to do to keep the money coming is to sign contracts with franchisers. He has long become bored of his wife Sammy, is having an affair with secretary Cecilia, and spends the rest of the day imagining that he is some kind of hero in a story by Bret Easton Ellis. It all begins when he decides to sell his father’s land. Or maybe it started when his wife discovers religion through a charismatic and handsome ustaz making the rounds on TV and such? At any rate, he starts hearing and seeing things as he goes about his aimless existence, as if he’s haunted… by something.
Hadi M Nor’s Family Values is a mixed bag. It features the antihero protagonist with a certain degree of charm that makes him an interesting character, but wastes much of its potential by meandering around like a lost and confused turtle. For half the book, I am subjected to Aizat’s sexual shenanigans and cynical thoughts about everything and anything. That’s fine, if I get the feeling that the story is going somewhere, but this is not the case here. For too long, reading this book is like having to humor a self-absorbed twit as he prattles on and on like it’s the worst date ever.
It is only in the last handful of chapters that Family Values shows its true colors: it’s a thinly veiled satire, the story being nothing more than an obvious parable on getting swept up into political parties that use racism as a means to divide and conquer in order to remain in power, and losing one’s sense of morality in the process. This story benefits mostly from its timing of publication – it’s perfect reading in the current political atmosphere of this country. Even then, the story doesn’t work as well as it could have been under other circumstances.
One, Aizat. He’s a charming fellow, but it’s hard for the author to pull off the effort of turning Aizat into an unlikely hero as Aizat lacks a distinct and coherent personality in the first place. He’s so self-absorbed to the point of being a complete twat… and yet, he’s suddenly the embodiment of the Jalur Gemilang spirit? It may have helped if the author had made Aizat interact more people with people of other races – no, having sex with a Chinese secretary and an Indian prostitute isn’t enough, sorry – or anything that would have given the fellow a stronger motivation to do what he did in those last few chapters.
Two, the pacing. Seriously, do we need half the book to be on Aizat’s admirably happening sex life? Hey, I’m all for people having all the fun they could have in this country, but given how lacking this book is in terms of giving Aizat a stronger, more defined set of motivations, I can’t help but to wonder whether some of the word count allocated to Aizat’s Mambo Number 5 hour could have been put to better use on other more important things.
Lastly, if the author’s intention is to insert some satirical elements in this story, it can be argued that attributing the worst kind of racism to a malevolent paranormal entity is a big cop-out. What, people don’t have it within themselves to be total racist scumbags? The author must be more idealistic than he’d like me to think. Oh, and due to the lethargic pacing of the book, the woo-woo stuff comes up pretty abruptly, and the last few chapters feel especially rushed as a result.
Family Values is very readable, thanks to the author’s sly sense of humor and his ability to create a mostly amoral self-absorbed twat that is still with a considerable amount of charm and charisma to carry the story. However, it also feels like an underdeveloped story due to what seems like an inability on the author’s part to decide whether the story should go the way of Jackie Collins’s glitzy glam-trash style or Bret Easton Ellis’s more elitist brand of literary misanthropy. It tries to do both, and ends up being neither here nor there.