Fixi Novo, RM19.90, ISBN 978-967-0750-26-2
Noir Fiction, 2014
The KL Noir anthology comes to a close with KL Noir: Yellow and editor Kris Williamson evokes in the introduction that yellow is the color of cowardice, blah blah blah. There’s no need to think too deeply when it comes to the stories in here, though. Too many fillers clog up the scene.
Choong Jay Vee goes all second person point of view in The Trap, where you are a hot babe that gets all other bitches jealous over your milkshake. Then you find a man, and kill him just after he discovers that you have dangling bits between your legs. Hey, I didn’t spoil this spectacularly unoriginal story – the title of the story is the big spoiler here. I don’t know what the author and the editor are thinking. There’s a reason why the movie The Crying Game is called what it is and not The Pondan Game – it makes no sense to have a story where the title gives away the big reveal.
Chin Ai-May, fortunately, gives this anthology a brief moment of reprieve with Never Forget a Face, a tale of an old man, a former cop, who shows signs of dementia and a touch of Alzheimer’s disease. Or is he really that much of a goner? This is the question when he decides that he recognizes a newcomer to the nursing home as a criminal from his past who got away, and decides to finally administer some much belated just desserts to that fellow. This story is short but it packs a powerful punch, capturing the poor old sod’s thoughts and emotions in a way that stabs at the heart.
Foo Sek Han’s The Disgraced, in which a cop goes on a bloody killing spree to avenge his girlfriend, is another tale that takes on a familiar premise and doesn’t even try to pretend to be interesting. I can see the so-called twist coming from a mile away, and the whole overwrought nature of the author’s narrative doesn’t help much. The whole thing reeks of someone trying too hard to impress me.
Sharmilla Ganesan’s French Fries for Aunty Kamalam, on the other, is fantastic. Oh so Malaysian, and yet, oh so enjoyable, this one has a devout vegetarian who loves the french fries from McDonald’s, er, Micky’s. Then, one day, she reads off the Web that Micky’s fries their fries in oil containing beef fat. She is horrified. Her husband rolls up his eyes, but Kamalam continues to obsess over this matter. You see, she loves those fries. She craves them. She really, really wants to eat them, and this constant craving only fuels her disgust with herself as well as with Micky’s. Things eventually come to a boil in a way that is both hilarious and horrifying. This is easily my favorite story of this lot because it captures dark humor and macabre violence perfectly in one intoxicating blend.
Catalina Rembuyan’s The Kill Wish is basically the hubris-laden rambling of an assassin, who is so smug and pretentious that the whole story ends up resembling a parody or something. Only, I don’t believe the author is aiming for parody in her story. Oops.
Leroy Luar’s Contrail combines what seem like hallucination or rambling or a horny guy’s wet dreams with an airport. The whole thing sounds interesting, but the author’s deliberately opaque narrative suggests that he’s still stuck in creative writing class, trying way too hard to impress his instructor. There are way too many local authors who seek to impress rather than entertain their readers, and it looks like Kris Williamson has caught another one after Ms Rembuyan.
Deadwritten by Abd Qayyum Jumadi has a dolt writing a story to expose a murder done to someone close to him. Once again, this is another overdone premise, and the author doesn’t try to deviate much from the tried-and-tested premise. This is a very predictable tale, but I’m sure his parents must be very excited for the author.
Anai is Wong Pek Mei’s story about a very young girl sold by her parents to a pedophile. I suppose this is a story about the tragedy of humanity and the disgusting way we people treat kids sometimes, but the writing is overreaching, with the author’s efforts to sound literary sometimes backfiring due to awkward phraseology here and there.
Paul GhanaSelvam’s The Ride isn’t really “noir”, it’s more of a tale of teenage angst, only, the teenager in question would probably do something really violent one day. Compared to some of the stories here, this one isn’t bad at all, but it doesn’t deviate much from the “I want to be Bret Easton Ellis” mold.
Timothy Nakayama’s Ambrosia is basically a tale of chefs gone wild – murder, food, jealousy, all that jazz. But the story meanders for way too long, so much so that its momentum is completely dissipated by the time the story limps to its climax. Some judicious practice of word economy to tighten the proceedings would have given this story the sense of urgency and suspense it needs to sustain itself. As it is, the story just feels unnecessarily long.
Martin Vengadesan pitches a chapter from an upcoming nonfiction book, The Case of Botak Chin, the Robin Hood of Sentul, and I certainly hope I am reading an unedited first draft, because yikes, in just a few pages, the author bores me with some of the driest prose ever, and more bewilderingly, he hops from one tangent to another abruptly, reinforcing every negative impression I have of people who write or used to write for The Star.
Sukhbir Cheema takes on another popular premise – the do-gooder walking through a world of sin and decadence, briefly touching the lives of the ones he comes across – in The Lost Pilgrim. Unlike a number of stories here, this one is well written, well paced, and well delivered. It’s a sweet and poignant tale, if somewhat heavy-handed at places, but I find myself wondering when the violence will start. Like its title, this story seems… lost. It doesn’t belong here, but I’m glad to have come across it.
Claudia Skyler Foong serves Happy Family, which is all about how one boy’s unhappiness with her mother’s remarriage and his new stepbrother takes a tragic turn when violence erupts. Another familiar story, but it would have worked were not for the author’s stilted and wooden narrative style.
Another predictable familiar fare arrives in the form of Zufar Ismail Zeid’s Breaking Point. A cop investigates violent crime only to learn that he is personally connected to it – yeah, read that before, so this one doesn’t offer much in terms of suspense or interesting story line. It’s competently written, though, for what that’s worth.
Subashini Navaratnam’s Girl Power is one of the few good ones in this collection. An Indian girl from a very traditional family is so suffocated by her helplessness when it comes to gaining some control of her life that she eventually slips off the edge in her very own version of Tori Amos’s Silent All These Years. Her uncle molesting her is the final catalyst for her determination to gain vengeance for herself and for other women in her shoes. I have to love a story where the heroine is guided by Kali… and the Spice Girls and Sweet Valley High novels. Dark humor and violence live here, but be careful of the pathos – that can break the heart because the heroine’s feeling of helplessness feels very real, as she is trapped in a culture that is all too real.
Natasha Gideon’s Victims of Society is another tale where a hubris-laden crackpot brags about his sins and crimes. The protagonist is off-putting, pretentious, and annoying. He’s a twat, ugh.
KL Noir: Yellow is an interesting anthology in that the strongest stories here are among the best in the entire series, but their numbers are way too few to make up for the many average to dire fillers cluttering up this anthology. It’s a shame that this series closes with a limp pop like this. For a while there, I thought we were getting somewhere, but this and the previous anthology were one unhappy trip downhill.
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