Translated from the Thai by Mui Poopoksakul
FAR EAST, SOUTH ASIA AND AUSTRALASIA
Duanwad Pimwana is one of Thailand’s best-known female authors, and this is a collection of 13 short stories, first published between 1995 and 2014, which give a small insight into the development of Pimwana’s writing.
I found some stories to be much stronger than others. The collection opens with the best, and longest, story in the collection, from which the book takes its name. This is also the most recent story in the collection. Arid Dreams is clever play on words, as a pantingly horny Thai traveller takes some beachside accommodation for the night, and ruminates on the beautiful woman who seems to help run the guest house, as well as provide massages to tourists. When he finds out that she really does has no time for herself at all, and also offers sexual services at nighttime, he is determined to sleep with her. Eventually she opens up to the pent-up protagonist, confiding that she only sleeps with non-Thai tourists, to avoid sealing a reputation as a whore among the local people in the place to which she is bound. In this story the lechy traveller develops a modicum of self-awareness as he gets to know her better – this is not the case in many of the other stories. I really like this story, and looked forward to reading the rest of the collection, but overall it fell a little short of expectations.
There are some common, recurring themes. These include the failure of entitled male characters to even attempt to understand the perspectives and inner worlds of the women around them, and their tendency to apply double standards in their relationships with their wives and lovers (male characters repeatedly bemoan the fact that their harried wives are ageing less well than they feel to be the case for themselves).
Others focus on poverty and other failed dreams. Some don’t quite work: “The Attendant” reflects on the tedious life of a lift attendant; unfortunately, this also meant it bored me stupid. Another, “The Awaiter”, focuses on a man who finds some mislaid money at the bus station, and then stands there doing absolutely nothing, while ruminating on possible explanations for the loss and the consequences should he take it. This tale was charming, but not exactly engrossing.
I loved “Wood Children”, in which a wife longs for a child, but her and her husband find themselves unable to conceive. The woman begins to find distraction in whittling children out of wood, and becomes more and more engrossed in her hobby, to her husband’s consternation. The story unspools to a determinedly creepy conclusion.
“Over the past several months, Mala had carved almost ten figures. Children formed out of wood, in different poses, were lined up on her table. Some of them smiled, lopsided mouths and all; some had heads that skewed back, hands that didn’t align with the arms, or feet that were disproportionately large.”
All the characters in this intriguing collection seem to be trapped in some way, whether through poverty, marriage or simply inaction. It’s definitely worth a read, but it’s a bit of a mixed bag.