Thursday, March 1, 2012

In love and bondage...

Not too long ago I finished reading a collection of short stories by the contemporary cult Chinese writer, Wang Xiaobo. The collection is called "Wang in Love and Bondage" (yes, I realize the name is too suggestive not to snicker when hearing it) and features three of Wang's best works (I think) "2015", "The Golden Age" and "East Palace, West Palace". Each work examines a facet of Chinese life and parodies it in an absurd fashion (at least that's what I got out of it). The first story follows the life of an artist in a dystopian future (presumably in the year 2015) as told by his nephew, who is apparently one of the author's alter egos named Wang Er (many of the narrators of his stories apparently share this name and are meant to be alter egos of himself.) The artist is constantly arrested for painting and selling art without a permit and is eventually sent to an artist's prison for "re-education". There he "falls in love" with the guard who is charged with watching him, who happens to be (based on the Wang's description) incredibly attractive. They proceed to have a bizarre relationship in which they constantly switch between being a couple and being a prisoner and guard and also have sex, often and practically anywhere that has a decent surface. It's pretty wild.


The second story is the story of a man (and the story's narrator) also named Wang Er and a woman, Chen Qingyang, working at a labor camp during the cultural revolution. The woman's problem is that her husband is in prison and everyone thinks that she is "damaged goods" meaning that she cheated on her husband with another man because she is apparently too attractive to have been faithful. Of course she has never cheated, but after befriending Wang, and seeking his council about what to do, he simply says the she should just actually become damaged goods and than no one will need to talk about it anymore. So after becoming "good friends" Wang and Chen go at it, having sex constantly and just about everywhere (can you see a theme here?).

The late Mr. Wang himself, sadly he died of a heart-attack in 2006.
The final story, is the shortest and is about a gay relationship between a policeman and writer (at least I think that's what he does, the story doesn't really go into detail about his daily life too much). The policeman's job is to patrol during the night shift, a park which happens to be a popular meeting place for gay men. Every night he arrests one of the men in the park so he has someone to talk to. Eventually he ends up arresting a particularly interesting guy whom he eventually falls in love with and realizes that he too is gay. This story is particularly interesting because, even though Wang Xiaobo was straight (I'm pretty sure) the way he writes the characters seems really realistic and genuine and tackles a lot of the trials and tribulations that apparently a lot of gay people go through, according to a number of gay men I've talked to over the years. Pretty deep stuff.

A poster for the film adaptation of the story with the same name.
Wang Xiaobo's writing style is what really got me when I read these stories. I was reading an English translation mind you, but I'd assume the translators stayed true to his tone and stylistic choices. His style can be described as, "absurdly blunt" especially in the first two stories. He has this way of explaining the most bizarre and/or erotic scenes and situations in the most non-nonchalant ways, which in turn somehow make them seem even more absurd and/or even more erotic, its really quite affecting. In the last story he takes a bit less of an absurdest tone but it is still quite straight forward, and he certainly pulls no punches when it comes to describing the acts of sex, straight or otherwise. Not that its vulgar or even pornographic, but somehow this way of giving the reader all the details so unabashedly really works well and makes the stories seem more fantastic though realistic (if those words can even be used together in that way). Its hard to explain, but its good stuff. Although Wang was largely considered a "cult-writer" for a long time, his stories have hit the mainstream and he is currently considered to be one of China's iconic contemporary writers.Check him out if you want to read some fiction that'll stick in your mind.                    

No comments:

Post a Comment