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Trivialities About Me and Myself

A review by T. F. Rhoden of Yeng Pway Ngon’s Trivialities About Me and Myself

Outsider views of Singapore suffer from numerous preconceptions and generalizations, many the result of sometimes humorous foreign venting in online forums about the city-state’s overweening legal apparatus and legal codes. Yet Singapore is affluent and materially developed by any measure.

Nor is Singapore widely known as a place of literature, but that is at least in part because much of the city’s life lies behind language barriers. This perception is exacerbated by a national campaign, promoted by the city to advertise its strength as a destination for foreign investment rather than a cultural hub.

The novel Trivialities About Me and Myself by Yeng Pway Ngon does two things splendidly to disabuse these notions. First, the novel is a much-needed corrective to the usual stereotypes. The author, a winner of the Singapore Literature Prize and the Southeast Asian Writers Award as well as a prolific poetic, utilizes his work to critique the technocratic veneer of the island nation.

Second, the book employs a theme of the human condition as it intersects with modernity. Big words often used to describe Singapore’s experience of modernity—industrialization, modernization, legalization, and now financialization—do not tell us much about the personal level. Rather, this novel is about one man’s struggle with a breakneck world of change. Though the color is local, the story is global.

The author’s interpretation of the Singaporean dilemma is funneled through the protagonist Ah-hui and his struggle with the ‘Self’. This Self is a voice in Ah-hui’s head that represents one aspect of his ego. Ah-hui speaks to the Self, as if the Self were a separate being. Ah-hui and the Self argue and disagree. Sometimes Ah-hui is the victor. In these instances, an ethic of material profit and consumption wins. Sometimes the Self is the champion. This is meant to represent traditional values. In Ah-hui’s case, the Self will often prefer the exegesis of classical Chinese literature or the righteousness found in the defense of those who have been left behind in Singapore’s expanding economy.

The confrontation between Ah-hui and the Self is reflected on two levels. In as much as the Singaporean city-state moves away from Confucianism, so too does Ah-hui… [click here to continue to read full text]

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*Originally published in Asian Review of Books by T. F. Rhoden; watercolor image credit for this re-post goes to Khor Seow Hooi at The Colours of Heritage. Unless otherwise stated, all posts on this website are under Creative Commons licence. 

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He Runs the Moon

A review by T. F. Rhoden of Wendy Brandmark’s He Runs the Moon: Tales from the Cities

Sometimes the setting of stories, the barrios and backstreets and weighty avenues of childhood remembrances, prove to be as powerful to the narrative as the protagonists themselves. He Runs The Moon: Tales From The Cities by Wendy Brandmark vibrates with an urban milieu that can be both inviting and at times meaningfully oppressive. The tales here, which flitter from Denver, Colorado, to the Bronx, New York, to Cambridge, Massachusetts, are compiled together in a highly recommended collection of short stories.

All characters sharpen their speech, experiences, and epiphanies against this metropolitan whetstone.

Witnessing how the city-body becomes an agent in its own right is pleasantly hypnotizing. In the first part of seven stories set in Denver, ‘My Red Mustang’ captures this sentiment of city-as-agent well, as the female protagonist frets over what to do with an attractive-yet-unwanted automobile beyond its time, whilst street upon street of Denver comes alive to keep her vehicle in motion for just one more traffic light. This is more than just atmospheric indulgence. These kernels of urban truth dazzle in their own way as much as they hold the logic of the plot together. ‘Irony’, another story from this initial set, as well as having one of the more humourous plotlines, also works with the city of Denver as the main character struggles with some of the sodden truths of sexual iniquity.

Many of the stories in this collection were… [click here to continue to read full text]

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*Originally published in Sabatoge Reviews by T. F. Rhoden; image credit for this re-post goes to Robert Cash via Wikipedia. Unless otherwise stated, all posts on this website are under Creative Commons licence. 

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Review of Texaners by Jessica Gregory

Review

Reviewed by Jessica Gregory at Sabatoge Reviews for T. F. Rhoden’s Texaners: Eight Short Stories.

‘…those perfectly imperfect souls of expansive, yet common diversity.’
Texaners

What comes to mind when thinking of Texas? What stands out from the jumble of imagery that us non-Texans have subconsciously absorbed from various transmitters? Some montage of the following, I would say: the lonely ranches in the desert with their clanking windmills; the Rio Grande; cowboys silhouetted by the red setting sun; Country and Western music; the Dallas theme-tune; gun-toting, shooting, Second Amendment espousing Republicans; George W Bush; oil fields; all wrapped up in the sweltering Texan heat. And in light of this, this reviewer can readily understand Rhoden’s compulsion to attempt to debunk these stereotypes. As Rhoden himself says:

These stories are about new Texans—new Texaners. These children of the new Texas have no idea, no connection aside from locale, of that Texas of yesteryear.

Instead of cowboys Rhoden is exploring suburban, city, Texan life, particularly from the perspective of those that don’t find themselves apart of the Texan stereotype – the students, the immigrants, the multiracial, the liberal, the artists, among others. Rhoden has cited James Joyce’s Dubliners as a source of inspiration for this collection, and so he has set the bar high when attempting to emulate Joyce’s exploration of place-based identity.

Texaners consists of eight short stories. From the outset we are cast into a world far… [click here to continue to read full text]

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*Review originally published in Sabatoge Reviews by Jessica Gregory; image credit for this re-post via City-Data. Unless otherwise stated, all posts on this website are under Creative Commons licence. 

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Whiskey in Cracked Glass

Texaners: Eight Short Stories

A new book for all of you bored with the normal Texas stereotype!

Texaners: Eight Short Stories can be purchased through normal book distributors, including Amazon.

Description

None of us wishes to abandon stereotypes if we don’t have to. Their utility is unquestionable. Yet, this anthology cares little about all of that. Occasionally, the sensation of sheepishness often associated with a change in one’s understanding of a place or a time is well worth the trial in self-reflection. This is, of course, occasionally. The Irish apostate James Joyce succeeded in secularizing the term “epiphany” for literature.

The book in your hands now, entitled Texaners, borrows unabashedly from Joyce’s insight. Texaners is, naturally, inspired by Joyce’s Dubliners. Impish errors aside, why else bother really? Earlier versions of some of these stories have appeared in literary magazines. “Oils” appeared in The Monarch Review and Status Hat. “The Gulf” appeared in Foliate Oak Literary Journal. “Drywall” appeared in Microstory a Week. “Airfare” appeared in Weirdyear. “Rooftop” appeared in Black Heart Magazine. The stories “Chinese Spoons”, “The Bat Mitzvah”, and “W Martin Luther King Jr Blvd” are new to this collection.

Paperback: 120 pages
Publisher: Etoile Solitaire Press (2015)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0692512748
ISBN-13: 978-0692512746
Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 0.3 x 7.8 inches
Shipping Weight: 6.6 ounces

TEXANERS, rhoden (front cover only)

TEXANERS, rhoden (back cover only)

*Original paperback and ebook copyright held by T. F. Rhoden. Unless otherwise stated, all posts on this website are under Creative Commons licence. 

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Oils

A short story…

No morning romp, no private onanism; no shared breakfast, no quick snack; no pot of coffee, no shot of espresso: the two hours or so before dawn had to be used for work, had to be used solely for painting.

Sevek awoke because of despair. But he awoke quietly, disturbing neither Pranaya nor the child sleeping bodkin between her parents. His wife and daughter knew nothing of his desperation. They only had a vague sense of his plight, understood that he wanted to paint, but did not know the ultimate reason why.

Pranaya’s head lay unpillowed. She was as supine to her husband’s plight as she was to the world beyond their mattress.

Sevek’s daughter, lying flesh against her mother’s umber midriff, seemed lifeless to him. Both the females looked dead in their sleep.

The painter rolled away from his family towards the uncurtained window. The city glow of downtown Dallas murmured into the bedroom, enough to allow Sevek to read the unadorned timepiece at the other end of their bedroom. He had some time yet ere dawn.

Not a fear of failure, but a fear of having no evidence of his existence motivated him to rustle himself from bed. If he had had friends who were composers or writers or directors, he would have inquired into the muses that spark their creations.

Sevek’s sense was that struggle was the raison d’etre for any self-aware artist. He did not care if this reflection was bromidic. The reason was real and impassioned.

He despised the fight though, the artist’s fight, hated it with all his material being, wanted to choke his drive to create, drown the resilience underwater, like pushing his own daughter’s rubicund face into a shallow spring puddle—if only it were so easy? This was how he defined his desperation: unwanted, yet warranted.

Sevek willed himself into the adjoining room whither his canvases, oils, and brushes lay scattered about. Most of his paraphernalia had been relegated to one corner of their one-bedroom loft by Pranaya, but evidence of Sevek’s industry rarely stayed confined to that ignoble corner. These days, empty paint tubes and headless brushes could be found intermingled with their toddler’s playthings.

He pulled the switch to the incandescent lamp and was startled to see a man sleeping on their vintage Bauhaus.

Sevek forgot that his wife’s younger brother had come up from college for an interview in Pranaya’s company. He was to interview today. He would probably get the position, Sevek guessed, become another Indian twiddling away his existence in the American IT sector. He would later become naturalized like Pranaya.

Sevek scoffed, which was more the cliché in America: he the milksop artist-painter struggling with his middle-class demons or his brother-in-law the Indian-runaway struggling to become another computer code wallah in the West? Even though Sevek did not have to fret over finances because of Pranaya’s career—instead he enjoyed a much more expensive lifestyle than he ever would have in India—but he disliked being associated with its stereotypes.

The brother-in-law had not been disturbed by the sallow light. Sevek spotted… [click here to continue to read full text]

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*Originally published in Monarch Review: Seattle’s Literary and Arts Magazine by T. F. Rhoden; photo credit for image at top of re-post via GoodWerks. Oils is now part of the Texaners short story collection. Unless otherwise stated, all posts on this website are under Creative Commons licence. 

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