I really talk nonsense sometimes: the only Chor Karrakeit recent issue I’m missing is No 48. I’ve got No 47! I bought it a couple of months ago at the Thammasat bookshop along with two other issues I later found out I already had, duh.
Actually, I went through Issue 47 in the last couple of nights, disregarding – as I do these days – those stories that seem to exceed 4 000 words, as the immediate purpose was to find more material to translate for the Bangkok Post. Not that I won’t read the longer stories at one point: often the best short stories exceed journalistic formats.
Last night, after plodding through either clumsy prose or harebrained plots or narcissistic ranting, I was getting desperate until I came to ‘Wao nang’ (The woman kite) by Sarkhorn Phoonsuk, a spicy coming-of-age story that the Bangkok Post will surely reject to their loss: voyeurism, exhibitionism and masturbation in a family newspaper? You must be joking.
No, I’m not: such themes are flourishing in today’s Thai short fiction. Actually, they have been in the last seventeen years, if not longer – and I remember well that the Bangkok Post themselves commented on the morrow of the 1992 military silliness how a rash of short stories by up-and-coming writers had the prick and the fist as major symbols.
I have to be cautious on behalf of the Post: a few months ago the Outlook editor turned down Kanthorn Aksornnam’s superbly comical and inventive ‘Fresh Kills’ because a worthy baboon in it is named Bin Laden, which might have triggered a fatwa and/or sent waves of suicide bombers into their car park – I’m not making this up: they really wanted the name removed. So Khun Noo told them with a smile, Bor pen yang kha (‘Get lost’, in free translation). I’ve been prodding her ever since to come up with something a little less … disquieting but still superb I would translate forthwith. It goes without saying that ‘Fresh Kills’ will go into the next collection of short stories thaifiction.com will offer.
Going back to ‘Wao nang’, I’ve been musing about how clever the title is. Woman kite indeed, but reading between the words there seems to be another meaning just below the surface: the association of ‘woman’ and ‘kite’ brings to mind that, if chak wao means ‘to fly a kite’, it is also slang for male masturbation, i.e. jerking off, jacking off, playing with oneself – and that’s what those naughty youngsters in the story are doing as they spy on the widow taking her nightly showers (and she quite aware of it, thank you, and ‘missing something’ once they desist). Actually, a kite in the tantalising shape of an exhibitionist woman is involved – two, in fact – and the story is much more complex than this brief interlude would suggest. Even though the end is a bit weak, the tale breathes life, and there’s no doubt in my mind that its presumably young author, a Southerner now living up there in Nan, will surprise us with better stuff yet.