Thirteen short stories by a Thai writer making her English debut examine life under the strictures of capitalism and rigid gender roles.
In these stories, published in Thailand from 1995 to 2014, villagers, prostitutes, and wage workers struggle with the impossibility of their dreams in lives marked by drudgery. In “The Attendant,” an elevator operator thinks wistfully of a youth spent hauling cassava roots on a farm, in stark contrast to the atomized work his body does now, operating a deadening piece of machinery shaped like a coffin. In “The Awaiter,” the title character is unemployed, aimless, and hoping for human connection when he finds money next to a bus stop and waits for someone to come back for it. Those who hope for a glamorous rise to the top end up reflecting bitterly on their choices: In “The Second Book,” Boonsong becomes a promising politician thanks to his connections to a powerful kingpin; when that kingpin is killed, Boonsong’s hopes—both his political ambitions and, eventually, even his childhood dreams—are summarily dashed. And in “Within These Walls,” a politician's wife realizes, as her grievously injured husband lies in the hospital, that her life has been entirely defined by his choices. Because these characters are trapped, either by their circumstances or by their own obsessive thought processes, the prose is rife with repetition, an effective narrative strategy that can also become frustrating: “I was the one suffering from having to lay hands on it. Isn’t it twisted? When I hurt others, I’m the one that suffers; when others hurt me, I’m the one that suffers again.” Several of the stories are told with heavy irony from the perspectives of blinkered or boorish men whose foibles and fragility seemingly are the point. But these stories about gender also arrive at the most unsatisfying insights: In the title story, the sex-obsessed protagonist ultimately “realize[s] that, with women you’ll never stand a chance of sleeping with, it’s better to learn as much as you can about them, until lust gives way to other feelings.” Many of these stories, though punctuated with flashes of mordant humor, conclude with similarly pithy, oddly formal lessons.
Earthy, spare stories that paint a bleak portrait of human shortcomings.