Crude and pointless—unless crudity is the point.



Little fables of degradation from one of Indonesia’s most famous authors.

Kurniawan earned international acclaim for his epic exploration of his country’s history and folklore, Beauty Is a Wound (2015). This was the author’s first work to be published in English, and translations of his novels that have appeared since then have been increasingly disappointing. The short fictions collected in this volume continue that unfortunate trend. Kurniawan has never been afraid to shy away from the grotesque and the squalid, but, with stories like “Graffiti in the Toilet” and “Don’t Piss Here,” he seems to be daring readers to look away. More importantly, these very brief tales seem to be gross for the sake of being gross. The violence and filth and sexual transgression in Beauty Is a Wound served a larger purpose in depicting a country with a complicated, troubled past and contemporary political and economic challenges. To the extent that there is a hint of substantive content, it’s difficult to discern how much of it will be of interest only to an Indonesian audience. For example, the story “Rotten Stench” describes—in one seven-page sentence—a massacre in the fictional city of Halimunda that echoes a similar atrocity that occurred 18 years earlier. It’s sickening, certainly, and the structural choice Kurniawan makes propels us forward even when we might want to stop, and one might make the argument that the author’s decision to provide almost no context for these scenes of chickens picking at the genitals of corpses (the word “genitals” appears a lot in these stories) and “flesh and blood that had congealed into porridge” suggests a certain nauseating universality, but…how many readers will understand the barely enumerated distinctions between these two massacres, and how many need a graphic lesson in why mass murder is, generally speaking, bad?

Crude and pointless—unless crudity is the point.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-78663-715-4

Page Count: 144

Publisher: Verso

Review Posted Online: July 15, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2019

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With her second novel, Ng further proves she’s a sensitive, insightful writer with a striking ability to illuminate life in...

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This incandescent portrait of suburbia and family, creativity, and consumerism burns bright.

It’s not for nothing that Ng (Everything I Never Told You, 2014) begins her second novel, about the events leading to the burning of the home of an outwardly perfect-seeming family in Shaker Heights, Ohio, circa 1997, with two epigraphs about the planned community itself—attesting to its ability to provide its residents with “protection forever against…unwelcome change” and “a rather happy life” in Utopia. But unwelcome change is precisely what disrupts the Richardson family’s rather happy life, when Mia, a charismatic, somewhat mysterious artist, and her smart, shy 15-year-old daughter, Pearl, move to town and become tenants in a rental house Mrs. Richardson inherited from her parents. Mia and Pearl live a markedly different life from the Richardsons, an affluent couple and their four high school–age children—making art instead of money (apart from what little they need to get by); rooted in each other rather than a particular place (packing up what fits in their battered VW and moving on when “the bug” hits); and assembling a hodgepodge home from creatively repurposed, scavenged castoffs and love rather than gathering around them the symbols of a successful life in the American suburbs (a big house, a large family, gleaming appliances, chic clothes, many cars). What really sets Mia and Pearl apart and sets in motion the events leading to the “little fires everywhere” that will consume the Richardsons’ secure, stable world, however, is the way they hew to their own rules. In a place like Shaker Heights, a town built on plans and rules, and for a family like the Richardsons, who have structured their lives according to them, disdain for conformity acts as an accelerant, setting fire to the dormant sparks within them. The ultimate effect is cataclysmic. As in Everything I Never Told You, Ng conjures a sense of place and displacement and shows a remarkable ability to see—and reveal—a story from different perspectives. The characters she creates here are wonderfully appealing, and watching their paths connect—like little trails of flame leading inexorably toward one another to create a big inferno—is mesmerizing, casting into new light ideas about creativity and consumerism, parenthood and privilege.

With her second novel, Ng further proves she’s a sensitive, insightful writer with a striking ability to illuminate life in America.

Pub Date: Sept. 12, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-7352-2429-2

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: June 20, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2017

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Steinbeck refuses to allow himself to be pigeonholed. This is as completely different from Tortilla Flat and In Dubious Battle as they are from each other. Only in his complete understanding of the proletarian mentality does he sustain a connecting link though this is assuredly not a "proletarian novel". It is oddly absorbing this picture of the strange friendship between the strong man and the giant with the mind of a not-quite-bright child. Driven from job to job by the failure of the giant child to fit into the social pattern, they finally find in a ranch what they feel their chance to achieve a homely dream they have built. But once again, society defeats them. There's a simplicity, a directness, a poignancy in the story that gives it a singular power, difficult to define. Steinbeck is a genius and an original.

Pub Date: Feb. 26, 1936

ISBN: 0140177396

Page Count: 83

Publisher: Covici, Friede

Review Posted Online: Oct. 5, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1936

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