The Rest of Your Life by O Thiam Chin
Time Out says
Rating: 3.5/4, RM30
This latest collection of short stories by O Thiam Chin is made up of works published separately in other periodicals and collections. Kind of like the thing some newspaper columnists do: a book that comprises their weekly writings. I guess such an anthology makes it possible for the writer’s fans to have scattered stories – fantastical and realistic – all within the same covers.
Each of these 12 tales by O Thiam Chin presents a protagonist caught at the inflection point of their life. And they have to decide whether to continue with the familiar and known – life as they have known it, or to venture down the path which they’ve glimpsed at but only through smoke and mirrors. All a little strange, new and uncertain.
In the first story ‘The Yellow Elephant’, an unnamed wife comes home to find that her husband has left her and that very unusual animal in her apartment. A strange situation, but she takes things in her stride. Of course, she has to decide what to do with it, and then to live with the consequences which follow. What might they be? But in typical O Thiam Chin style, he leaves us to imagine what might happen now that his protagonist has moved down that new path. Similarly, in the case of ‘What Are You Hiding’. Here the reader is given some incriminating but very circumstantial pieces of evidence, which perhaps may or may not be connected. But the information gathered by the protagonist, a housewife with a ne’er-do-well son, makes her suspicious that her son is hiding something dark and heinous. The question that arises at the end of the story: What is she going to do now? Pretend she is wrong? Or believe that she is right and live in silence with the knowledge? Or do something, like tell someone?
While the writer’s fantasy stories, like the one named above and ‘The Girl Who Swallowed the Sun’, demonstrate his imaginative powers to float up a world whose logic differs from ours, his realistic ones, like ‘Good Job’ about a young man’s self-discovery or ‘Housewife’ about a married woman’s fixation with her young male Chinese (as from China) tenant, underscore his ability to drill down beyond the surface of everyday life to see potential conflicts. These become the stuff of serious fiction worthy of attention and consideration. SH Lim