Heart Nine Cuts has been reviewed by Yeo Wei Wei
Updated: Nov 1, 2020
Yeo Wei Wei has just reviewed my short story collection Heart Nine Cuts in The Straits Times Book Page.
Here’s the review:
The theme of hunting appears in epigraphs scattered through the volume. Hunting for stories in dark places is one way to summarise Singapore Literature Prize shortlisted novelist Audrey Chin’s collection of nine short stories.
Much thought has been put into creating fiction that will excite the reader and urge him to turn the page. Most of the stories are populated by unusual characters who are pushed by circumstances into extreme situations; the adjective “unusual” is somewhat of an understatement since several of the protagonists could easily be described as diabolical.
Mining subversive borderlands of the human psyche to drive the narrative forward, the collection bears a strident message about harnessing the power of unsettling tales. It is not insignificant that the first and last stories, A Lover Of Story and Writer’s Revenge, invoke the latent violence of writing and the destructive ends that literature could serve.
Chin’s prose is often luscious, not unlike the juicy cuts of red meat evoked by the book’s title. The metaphor gives an inkling of an abiding interest in appetites. Through the stories, this is manifest in permutations that range from the carnal to the cannibalistic. In some of the stories, the fleshly materiality of key elements leaves a disquieting lasting impression, most notably the Great Dragon Fish with a track record of foretelling winning 4D numbers in the story The Dragon Fish.
Appetite that is whetted and not satiated is also explored through stories about relationships that transcend boundaries of nation or social norms. The chemistry of the most unlikely of couplings is the subject of at least three stories.
“Opposites attract” is tested in a story about a handsome school teacher and a transsexual student. The sense that the author prowls for fleshly tales that will make the reader shift uncomfortably in his chair of preconceived notions about love comes up again and again through the volume.
The writing has a skittish energy about it and often this has the effect of heightening tension. In the more compact stories, there is a sense of images moving lyrically, as if one were watching a music video. In the longer stories, the author draws the reader into the worlds she has created through the compelling voices of characters as is evident in Afterlife and The Dragon Fish.
There is an international cast of characters, a global flavouring given the overarching steak thematic; the transnational texture is further highlighted in the stories that feature characters paired with others of different nationalities.
Chin delves into the dangers of desire for knowledge in stories where cross-cultural relationships are tested by grief and violence. Yet the deepest impressions are made by characters whose innermost dilemmas and troubles pierce through their surface differences, their nameable identities of race, ethnicity, nationality.
In the stories where the author explores emotional bonds and the sexual intimacy in relationships that do not conform to society’s expectations, she seems to be underlining the unexpectedness of the relationships, perhaps as a way of challenging the rigidity of conventions. Woven through the collection is fascination with singularities that defy society’s categories. The marginalised and the denigrated have desires that make for deliberate baroque flights of fancy.
Wei Wei is a 2015-2016 Writer-in-Residence ant the Nanyang Technological University’s Creative Writing Programme and a short story writer. To sample her writing, Click here.
Wei Wei gave Heart Nine Cuts 3 stars. That’s not a gushing endorsement but she’s fair … I appreciate the time she spent with my words.
What about you? Why not go down to Books Actually, get the book, then tell us what you think!