A collection of humorous short stories reveals the devil in political correctness.
A septuagenarian soap opera star with a taste for teenage brides plans to meet a 19-year-old sandwich girl in Paris, but his plastic-surgery aspirations may leave him unfit to make the rendezvous. The perfection-minded lieutenant governor of the newly Chinese Hong Kong investigates the possible assassination of a German national, though discerning the truth may require recognizing a human flaw. A pork tycoon tells his lawyer how a trip to post-Soviet Moscow meant to break his daughter of her liberalism backfired on him regarding his impending marriage. The scion of an ambitious political family rejects a career in government in favor of one in education reform, but his infatuation with a controversial sex guru causes him to create a highly inappropriate syllabus for preschoolers. In these 13 stories, set in the recent past at locales across the globe, Pour (The Undercover Gentleman, 2009) sets up morality tales in which the pretense and ideology of characters are brought into conflict with the cruel ironies of reality, revealing that the “devil” is very much alive and lurking in our hubris and hypocrisies. As the author states in his preface, political correctness has “tearful insanity as the cause, common sense and a smile as a redemption.” Pour, a talented prose stylist, creates descriptions that are painterly and full of personality: “A slim, marble obelisk in the middle of an elegant Avenida was lit from its footing upwards like a warning finger raised at the smoldering sky for no reason at all.” These virtues are countered, unfortunately, by a tin ear for dialogue—characters speak like they just walked out of an American movie from 1945—and the project’s allegorical nature means that the protagonists never feel quite real. The stories are entertaining enough, but the endings tend to be predictable and unsatisfactory. Pour’s insistence on his coupled motifs—the devil and political correctness—distracts a reader from the individual stories and only loosely unites them as a collection. It is only when they drift off theme that the pieces fully manage to please: moving from the expected outcome into unknown territory.
A well-crafted collection of tales that occasionally offers welcome surprises.