As a pocketbook, The crux of the matter (Rueang Khong Rueang) by Phichetsak Pho-phayak is a model of its kind: it’s beautifully produced and printed; the cover is pleasant, its colours nicer than on the pictures of it available on the net, the best of which is used here; and the pages don’t grow wings when you make the book yawn.
The text is flawless except for one thing: an erratic distribution of spaces between sentences or clauses, which is the basic punctuation of modern Thai. Take for instance the first line of the last story, ‘Santi’. Translated literally, it would go like this: ‘Santi where are you forgive your parents since you’ve left. Our home has only’
I’ll write some other time about the dos and don’ts of Thai punctuation but. To get those spaces, wrong is a major impediment. To reading like, here.
The best story, Man Yoo Nai Nan (‘It’s in there’) was published in Chor Karrakeit 54 (Oct-Dec 2010) and chosen by editor Suchart Sawatsee as the best the review published that year. It’s grounded in the world of motocross, bike repairs and football, through the relationship of an aspiring young biker-footballer and his open-hearted drunken boss, a would-be biker turned master mechanic. It’s lively, contemporary, with just the right amount of technical stuff, and only 24 pages long. Its heart-warming, well-meaning message: dedication to work and surpassing yourself will get you there.
The trouble is that, except in spirit perhaps, this story hardly belongs to this collection, one of the seven competing this year for the SEA Write Award. The pre-selection committee has this to say about the book: ‘Presenting the problems of [rural] communities rather than those of individuals, the author shows [how they live under] a frame of relations governed by local traditions, beliefs, memories and values derived … from their social life…’ Indeed, almost all the stories here are heavy on the way of life in the animist-Buddhist countryside (probably the Northeast), as has been expounded in so many stories throughout the last century, with a particular emphasis on quaint beliefs and arcane ceremonies that seem to be a world away from current rural concerns, and in a manner that is reasonably entertaining if long-winded (especially the sixty pages long central piece, all too truthfully entitled Sai Lom Haeng Khwamkhit (‘The wind of thought’)) as would befit a writer of the last century. Appositely enough, the book is dedicated to Manat Jan-yong, the bard of the 1950s boondocks, and… Suchart Sawatsee.
Actually, in this Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde apparent dichotomy, the osmosis comes with Rueang Khong Koo (‘My story’), which also made it into Chor Karrakeit, in 2009: the violent, amoral, unabashed gloating of a killer, fraudster and all-round baddy, which strings along all the spiritual themes of the author in hard-boiled grotesque mode.
If anything, this tends to show that the author has come a long way from his beginnings ten years or so ago. If he keeps to the grind, this young man of perhaps 35 (sorry: the ‘About the author’ at the end of the book is totally unhelpful and he has yet to leave a trace on the net besides his mug shot) might yet get the much sought-after award three, six or nine years from now.