Fixi Novo, RM19.90, ISBN 978-967-0374-833
Noir Fiction, 2014
Unlike the previous two KL Noir anthologies, KL Noir: Blue feels inexplicably flaccid. And for an anthology featuring stories supposedly on a Malaysian take of noir, “flaccid” is not exactly what it should be aspiring to be. Anyway, this anthology continues to feature Malaysian authors…. no, wait, some of them are born in Malaysia but living abroad, while some aren’t Malaysian but just happened to be in Malaysia when they submitted the story. Let me rephrase the last sentence. This anthology continues to feature authors, who claim to be associated to Malaysia in one way or another, writing basically anything that has guns, violence, murder, or “taboo subjects” like violence on kids because if it ain’t cool like that, it ain’t noir.
The editor Eeleen Lee sets the tone of this anthology in her introduction, where she tells me, “Don’t forget to be entertained.” Sweetheart, I know there are too many Malaysian authors who imagine that they put words on paper to illuminate the shadowed minds of the plebeian reader, but trust me, I buy my books to be entertained first and foremost, and if these stories aren’t entertaining, you bet I wouldn’t forget to get mad and want my money back soon.
Anyway, Rozlan Mohd Noor has the right idea with Ballerina in Pink. It’s a tale of cheerful vigilant justice, as a deranged heart surgeon decides to fix his own heart by taking down corrupt cops that allow drug dealers to go free in this country. The whole ballerina thing is way overdone and, as well, unnecessarily overwrought, but the idea of actually having power to take down those corrupt people in power can be an appealing kind of vicarious drug, especially in the current political and socioeconomic climate of this country.
Chua Kok Yee presents The Banker, in which a couple of bank robbers break into a bank, expecting an easy job and easier money thanks to an insider’s cooperation. Of course, things are never what they seem to be. This one can be summed up in two words: “spectacularly unoriginal”. The plot has been done so many times before, the least the author could have done is to insert some wry, if not unexpected, twist into the tired formula.
Whose Blood Was It, Anyway? by Mamü Vies has a fellow mediating two parties after one side beat someone from the other side to death in a racially-motivated act of violence over a Facebook post. At least this one has a plot that isn’t a tired retread of overdone tropes, but it starts, happens, and ends without much of a pay-off for me, the reader. The author would no doubt pat himself in the chest and tell me, “Don’t forget to be entertained!” while I can only answer, “Entertained? It never happened, go choke on a cauliflower.”
Karina Bahrin’s A Woman in Five Pieces, previously published in the anthology Urban Odysseys: KL Stories, is a flawed but magnetic story. A detective stumbles upon the body of a woman who was cut into five pieces – like the title says – and he soon finds himself communicating with the ghost of the woman. This is a story about loneliness and isolation, and as the hero tries to find the missing pieces of the woman’s body for her, he is also finding the missing pieces of his own soul. This story suffers from the author playing her hand a little too obviously: her intentions are fine, and I actually like the take home message she is giving me here, but the execution often feels heavy-handed, veering into “hitting me in the head with a hammer” kind of obviousness. Still, this story tries to dance to its own song instead of replicating tried and true tropes, and succeeds in entertaining me and even making me sigh a bit inside.
Marco Ferrarese’s Bathroom Wall is ridiculous, implausible, and dumb. All of these could be virtues if the story is hammy, fun, campy, or delightfully absurd. Unfortunately, this is a tragic effort to replicate those bad torture porn movies like Hostel and Saw. I actually guessed correctly at the nature of the “twist”, and when I made that guess, I actually thought, “Good lord, let’s hope the author isn’t going to go there, because that would be so improbably stupid.” Well, the author went there, and the story ends up like some poor imitation of a bad B-grade flick. Most annoyingly, the author happily switches from first person point of view to third person point of view after the idiot protagonist dies, like this is perfectly normal. This story is an utter waste of time, paper, and ink.
Gangsters in Retirement by Balan Moses is worth a look as it has some old-time gangsters of Brickfields reminiscing about their adventures. The whole thing is campy and fun, like an absurd Tamil action movie that doesn’t know when to stop, but the morality spin towards the end has me scratching my head a bit. It’s like those sex stories that end with all the sinners dying of STDs – why spoil my fun like that?
Before she became indie bestselling author Aphrodite Hunt, the Malaysian-born author wrote Monster as Xeus. That was in 2007, when this story was published in Dark City. It is republished here, maybe because nobody else wants to submit a story of a 7-year old being tortured and mutilated as some kind of punishment for being a spoiled and badly-behaved boy. I’m sorry, but while I do think kids can be obnoxious, I wouldn’t want those kids to suffer even a little like the fate that befalls the kid here. And I don’t know what the point of this story is, other than to shock, and shock for the sake of being shocking is up there with kids baring their rear ends at passers-by when it comes to desperate cries for attention.
Joelyn Alexandra serves up Unwanted Utopia II: Deviant. Like many other stories in this anthology, this one is just our local author taking on tried and true tropes on a spin without injecting some much-needed personal flavor to make those tropes feel less played out. You know the deal – perfect society, rebels getting all moody because they want personal freedom, the usual.
Elizabeth Tai’s Bag is a tale of a corrupt cop who willingly does a fiendish Datuk’s dirty work, only to have his side gig bite his rear end big time. Again, a predictable and familiar tale, done many times before, without much to make this one feel less played out than the ones that came before it. And a big “Ugh!” at the flippant switch of point of view once the protagonist dies – authors can do this in a smarter way, surely, using various exposition framing devices?
Zed Adam Idris offers black magic and such in Mirage, which could have been fun if it didn’t feel like the author had this great idea to put bomoh magic and Inception in a same story but couldn’t think of much beyond that premise. The author tries, but the end result could have been better or, at least, more interesting.
Ah Beng’s Wedding by William Tham Wai Liang has a local uneducated criminal deciding to martyr himself in the name of love. Hello? Does the author realize how many Hong Kong dramas have done this thing before? The author doesn’t offer anything new here – the whole thing is predictable, and worse, overwrought and sentimental in a most improbable manner. Which Ah Beng would take the trouble to write reams and reams of letters to the girl across the street, in a language he is not good at? What year is this, 1964? And show me an Ah Beng who can spell “Chihuahua” correctly, much less know what that is. The author is going for tears and drama here in a way that don’t make any sense.
Iqbal Abu Bakar has our hero in some kind of futuristic prison in Sinful Saints, cackling that he’d get everyone free because he’s fly like Eminem and he shakes his booty like Rihanna… or maybe not. Unfortunately, instead of giving me no-nonsense violence, the author bogs down the whole thing with inane prattling like: “How can we violate the law, when the law itself is a violation?” Oh, go eat some egg tarts and choke on them.
Zedick Siew has some good ideas. Cold-hearted killer women! An actual heart, fueled by the deaths of five little girls, that is magically created to turn an area into a popular hotspot! Unfortunately, what results is Hearts in the City, a disjointed tale in which the highlight is the author pulling out a plot straight from the horror movie The Broken. Really now, is this the best the author can do?
After all the try-hard efforts in a row, Ling Low’s Smoke Flowers is a relief to get into. A low-key no-nonsense tale of two bored newspaper people who inadvertently become the first people in the scene of a crime, this one is well paced, focused, and entertaining. The author doesn’t even have to resort to borrowed ideas or unnecessary theatrics, imagine that!
Finally, Damyanti Ghosh’s An Orchestrated Ending closes the anthology. How apt – a pretentious try-hard anthology would surely not miss a chance to make a final pretentious fart of an impact by contriving to put a story with such a title as the closing story, after all. This one is about some stupid woman deciding to kill herself by slashing her wrists. The underlying implications are unfortunate: she gave up a chance at having children and a normal family life by focusing on being a bestselling author, so now her husband cheats on her with a younger woman and she’s now resorting to suicide stunts in a hotel room. Never mind the fact that there is something sad about a woman writer coming up with a story which heavily implies that a woman is unhappy because she is too successful in her career, the story itself could have benefited from some dark humor, irony, or anything that would have made it a little better than just another scree about success being a blight on a woman’s happiness. This story is a cliché, but it’s probably the best story to end this anthology of clichés.
KL Noir: Blue just tries too hard, at the end of the day, to be something grand and amazing, by doing all the wrong things. Too many stories just borrow popular tropes and plot lines without the authors making the effort to make these twists their own. The whole thing just screams wannabe, and I’m blue.
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