Fixi Novo, RM19.90, ISBN 978-967-0374-99-4
13 Moons is a collection of short stories dealing with creepy stuff. There is nothing groundbreaking about this, as ghost stories as practically the only type of stories that sell in Malaysia. However, the stories play so much into the “crazy domineering female and the submissive male” dynamics that I wonder whether the title of this collection is some kind of reference to bad menstrual days or something.
It’s probably strategy to start off the show with Team Macabre, as it is easily the weakest story here and, therefore, there is no way but up from there. Right? This one basically has some ex-employees of a failed publishing venture getting together to discuss some mysterious deaths in the management. There are two crazy bitches as the bad guy here, and, sadly to say, their over the top shrew of the century antics actually remind me of some of the women I’ve come across in the work place. This one is a bad misfire because the story is framed by the characters talking about what happened in the past. The humor is awkward, all characters seem to immediately get the pop culture references they are all tossing (therefore, making them all like part of a hive mind), the conversations feel stilted and unnaturally, and most bewildering of all, a lot of time these characters are telling each other things that they already know. The whole story is one artificial plot gimmick – it would have worked better as a straightforward narrative. The author tries to be too clever and falls flat on her face as a result.
The Wheelchair Companion is more focused and better written as there are no fancy narrative gimmicks here. Told through a young boy’s point of view, this one has an over the top shrill and malicious aunt terrorizing her husband, her wheelchair-bound mother-in-law, and the boy’s mother. Such a creature will get punished, of course. There’s nothing too surprising here, but it does its job and delivers a readable story. That’s crazy woman number two in this collection.
The Specialist’s Cat is pretty awkward, because it tries to insert an Egyptian-themed spook into a story set in Malaysia, and it feels as natural as a story of, say, a hantu pocong terrorizing high school kids in Sunnydale. At any rate, this one is about a girl who makes an unwise bargain to protect herself and her mother from an abusive father. It could have been a poignant story if the spook had a more local flavor and therefore felt more natural. Oh, and crazy female spook alert.
Bone Torpedoes has our protagonist deciding that fish are ancient warriors of a noble extinct race and therefore deserve to be allowed to die instead of being trapped in an aquarium. I suppose such a story could work, but the end result is more unintentionally funny than A Clockwork Orange creepy, mostly because the protagonist comes off like a whiny twatwaffle who thinks he’s in the sequel to JD Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye.
Pen Pal is the biggest anticlimax in this collection. Set in the pre-Internet days, our heroine and her friends take part in a pen pal program, and one of them starts receiving creepy letters from a much older man. The thing is, he’s from the USA, and the story ends with the heroine learning a new word. Hey, it’s a really scary word! The build up is good, and then… that’s it? That’s it? Waste of time. While there is no outright evil female here, the nun that runs the class is a bad-tempered hag.
A man on a plane overhears a rather… unusual conversation on a plane in Joe Moth. I’m pleasantly surprised at how tightly written this one is after the last few stories. This one is a simultaneously chilling and poignant, and it ends on a perfect dramatic note.
Red Balloons is probably the author’s own effort at creating her personal The Lovely Bones, as our protagonist encounters the ghost of a young girl who was murdered. I like this one, mostly due to how the story takes an unpredictable turn towards the end. Yes, another one with an evil female.
Batik Weaver has a widow bringing her child to her mother-in-law in some fanciful notion that they could spend time and mourn together for her recently deceased husband. Bad mistake – the mother-in-law is a whackjob. This is another standard crazy old hag tale, but it has its moments.
In the Dark of the Matinee is all about a guy whose obsession with an actress turns him into a creep of the first degree. The bad guy is a man, obviously, but he’s still driven to it by his feelings for a woman, so once again, a woman is the catalyst for all the screwed-up nonsense that follows.
Triumvirate is about three psycho bitches keeping peace in a happening club in Kuala Lumpur, and maybe killing a few people in the process, for their employer, a heartless and amoral woman. I’m seeing a recurrent theme here. The story is a missed opportunity because once again the author decides to create some bizarre mythology using elements from Greek and Egyptian mythology – for a KL nightclub – when the more realistic psychopath would have resorted to more local flavors of voodoo from Indonesia or Thailand.
Bougainvilleas is about a man who may be either being haunted by crazy monsters – again, another missed opportunity as the author creates her own monster baby variant instead of just using the already established local monster baby toyol types – or is going out of his mind due to guilt caused by his late mother’s job. This is another story where things happen because the male is completely subservient and submissive to the female – the unfortunate implications just keep piling as I turn the pages.
Brains for Brian is a perplexing tale of a family whose teenage son has turned zombie. There are so many local types of undead, and the author decides to borrow some from Haiti. Sigh. Anyway, this one is supposed to be humorous in a macabre manner, I guess, as the parents try to cover up the deaths their son keeps causing, but the humor is never really there. This story is like a stand-up gig without a punchline. Oh, and the mother’s the one pushing the father to do all the “funny” stuff here. I’m starting to wonder whether this story is actually a subversive “Men, claim back your testicles!” kind of propaganda.
Finally, No Sleep Every Night, which is basically a collection of very short vignettes that resemble rejected entries in those Singapore’s True Ghost Stories collections. The stories are too short to elicit anything other than indifference from me. Whose bright idea is it to end a collection in such a half-baked rojak manner anyway?
13 Moons turns out to be a very uneven collection. When the author is on a roll, she can deliver some readable stories, but when she stumbles while trying to stretch too far with gimmicky stuff that doesn’t work, she really falters. It’s actually a shame that the stories don’t have a more local flavor where the spooks are concerned, because that could be given these stories a novelty value that may persuade me to overlook the more egregious problems in this collection.