Party Members: a gruesome China book review

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Party Members by Arthur Meursault is an intense, ugly, gruesome work of fiction that will leave most feeling nauseous. It’s also a page-turner that is kind of essential reading for China observers. Reader discretion is advised, be aware that this one may offend many if not all…

Basically, the novel is a satire which viciously critiques the excesses of contemporary post-economic reform China. As titled Party Members, it stars a low-level Communist party member who lives in a third-rate polluted city and decides to indulge in the very worst of corruption. It is incredible how far it goes, which is a testament to author Meursault’s mind in both imagination and depravity.

The protagonist, who is certainly no hero of the story, is Yang Wei. He starts out as a very unremarkable Chinese man. “Not one in a billion, but one of a billion,” exceptional in his mediocrity. The story starts out critiquing how dull and quaint the average Chinese citizen can be in their complacency, but soon Yang Wei stands out indeed as being a particularly shameless party member.

To be specific, one day Yang Wei’s penis starts talking to him and pushes him to literally act like a dick in order to get what he wants. So begins an series of progressively worse moral failings, from familiar disrespect to copious descriptions of prostitution and shallow consumerism. The literary critic in me ponders whether hearing of voices represents schizophrenia, or if an unreliable narrator device is at play. Although later scenes seem to indicate that it is ‘true’ in the world of the story, for reasons unknown his penis seems to gain the ability to speak and thereafter instructs him to be a terrible person.

Comparisons of Irvine Welsh’s Filth come to mind, which was about a corrupt police officer who had a tapeworm that could talk. Somehow, Meursault is even able to outdo the famed Welsh in writing vulgarities.

Despite whether or not the particulars of the story will appeal to all readers, Party Members is mostly well-written by technical standards and stays interesting one way or another. However, the descriptions can get too dense, and there are far too many adjectives. Even several long-winded speeches, satirical as they are, can come across as whiney nihilistic teenage rants. “The only way to be successful is to be a complete and utter dick… Just shit all over it!” More often than not the novel descends into telling not showing, with plenty of words such as “scumbag” thrown around in the narrative, unnecessarily reminding the reader how to judge the various scenarios.

Subtle, Party Members is not. Crass and disgusting, it still can’t be denied that it reads fast. It’s also hilarious at times, with ridiculous situations one can’t help but laugh at. In a sick sort of way. From toilet humor (there is actual drinking of piss as part of a scam marketing campaign), to the recurring theme of copiously describing greasy KFC food.

Yet, as the plot goes on it gets uncomfortably worse. Once the chapter about the child named Shanshan comes—which is about a terrible urban legend in China concerning car accidents and homicides—it becomes very hard to read.

The ending is legitimately horrifying. The question remains though, is this strange China tale supposed to be classified as horror?

Most unlikable protagonist ever. Which is of course the point.

It must be said that China is an enormous and complex country, with major problems but it may not be fair to look at it through the lens that Party Members embraces. The most cynical possible interpretation of Chinese society is a point-of-view worth exploring through this book, but there is a bigger picture and hopefully this isn’t the last word when it comes to China fiction. Meursault is certainly very knowledgeable about China issues and a talented wordsmith, but it just doesn’t seem healthy to focus that intently on the worst of the worst with no solutions whatsoever. Perhaps the genre is dystopia, in that case? Dystopia which takes place in the present.

All in all, reading this will leave a bad taste in one’s mouth. And being able to do that is something of a literary feat, in a way.

 

Party Members is available on Amazon.com and the ever-offensive Arthur Meursault blogs at arthurmeursault.com.

 

THIS MODERN LOVE: free promotion

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https://www.amazon.com/THIS-MODERN-LOVE-Ray-Hecht-ebook/dp/B01MA54L4I

 

For this week, my new novel THIS MODERN LOVE is free for downloading. As part of a Kindle Direct Press promotion, you can receive the novel for your Kindle device, or Kindle app/program on your smartphone or PC (the Kindle app is free by the way, no excuses!)

I hope you will enjoy the read. I am also still happy to directly share for reviewers via email if PDF is your medium of choice. In any case, I am slightly proud of this work and would like to know what readers think.

 

Tales of American love and sex, or lack thereof, in the 21st century…

 

 

Due warning: some graphic content

Exhibition of David Bowie’s private art collection

On my last trip to Hong Kong, I was lucky enough to go to the exhibition from the late David Bowie’s private art collection. It was at Sotheby’s HK location at Pacific Place near the Admiralty area.

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Although I didn’t auction any of the pieces, it was a great experience to be able to witness works of art that Bowie had personally owned!

Really fascinating works. The man had an incredible aesthetic, as we all know. The Basquiat pieces particularly stood out:

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And there was even a work of art that Bowie collaborated on with Damien Hirst:

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More information can be found here: http://www.sothebys.com/en/news-video/blogs/all-blogs/bowie-collector/2016/10/bowie-collector-highlights-on-view-in-hong-kong.html

Unfortunately, the exhibition was only on for one week and I believe it has since moved to London. If you happen to get the chance to see it there, I highly recommend it.

Lastly, do please check out this slideshow:

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THIS MODERN LOVE: a novel

bookcover-epub

https://www.amazon.com/THIS-MODERN-LOVE-Ray-Hecht-ebook/dp/B01MA54L4I

 

I am pleased to announce the release of my latest novel, This Modern Love.

Unlike my previous writings about China, this story is primarily concerned with America. It is about the way that technology has skewed modern relationships, and explores various themes of youth and immigration, sex and emptiness and the whole soul-of-my-homeland thing.

Please check it out on Amazon. It is available as a Kindle eBook as well as a paperback edition. I believe it works well as a digital read.

If you would like to review, please contact me and I’d be happy to send it to you.

Thanks for reading!

 

Synopsis:

American love isn’t what it used to be.

Roommates Jack and Ben are complete opposites when it comes to romance. For Jack, a mere waiter, it’s easy to use to the latest to app meet a new girl every weekend. But Ben, even though he’s a programmer, can’t seem to figure out how to maneuver online dating.

On the other side of town, sisters Andrea and Carla have their own issues. Andrea is a bit of a wreck, stumbling from one dramatic episode to the next. Carla is more concerned with blogging than dating, though she does get lonely at times. In an age of narcissism and alienation, it’s just so hard to meet someone.

Over the course of one day, these thoroughly modern men and women keep passing each other by. From yoga class to the club – all in a haze of drugs, sex, and selfies – opportunities for true love come and go, and no one notices because they were too busy staring at their phones.

Welcome to the 21st century.

Chinglish: Guangzhou and more shirts

Hello, it’s that time of the middle of the month when I have Chinglish to share.

I have noticed that there are more random t-shirts. Or at least I am capturing more of them.

Some from my recent Guangzhou trip.

I do feel bad taking pictures of random people in the street but it’s just too good…

Enjoy!

 

Where do people get these awesome #pervert shirts? I want one! #Guangzhou #Chinglish

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Another very random #Chinglish-y outfit Interpret as you will

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Been finding a lot of random #Chinglish-y shirts lately

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Another day another #Chinlgish Friendly Words, Active and Patience

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Awww cute #Chinglish in the park

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Of Gods and Mobsters by the Hong Kong Writers Circle

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Of Gods and Mobsters is a 2013 anthology of short stories published by the Hong Kong Writers Circle (you may recall that I participated in a podcast for the HK-based literary society). The Writers Circle publishes anthologies on an annual basis, and this volume in particular was recommended to me. I am pleased to report that the stories are excellent and the quality of writing coming out of Hong Kong is very high indeed.

The stories are grouped together into three parts: Of Gods, Of Tales, and Of Mobsters. Broadly speaking, the stories are split between the genres of magical realism and crime. The pervading theme throughout all are unique examinations of modern cosmopolitan experience—specifically within the strange land of contradictions that is Hong Kong.

The first and longest part tells stories of Western mythology in this Eastern-yet-international setting, which range from James Joyce-esque references to Neil Gaiman-style stories of ancient gods in the contemporary era. Several stories star the Mount Olympus pantheon, starting with Reena Bhojwani’s Hidden in the Night, an entertaining romp about Apollo and Zeus and Hera interacting in the city. Makes for very interesting juxtaposition.

The middle section, Of Tales, still fits with the style of the rest of the book. Aber Revisited by Joy Al-Sofi is a fable in the style of Kipling full of talking tigers, yet the tiger is represents Chinese symbolism. One of the best stories is The Standard by the anthology’s editor SCC Overton, a tragic science fiction romance about the fascinating concept of ethnic minority DNA becoming the future currency standard. It is a genre-bending story, very literary and very poignant. A futuristic banker of all people falls in love with a woman who is a Hakka specimen carrying her people’s genome for the sake of the economy. What a way to capture the essence of Hong Kong.

The final part Of Mobsters exemplifies the spirit of such themes by taking a myriad of story-telling directions. Some mystery, some even satire. Midlife Triad by James Tam is about gangsters in jail who are fans of ‘wuxia’ pulp stories. Guanxi by Edmund Price contrasts the rich (literately) high-life on the Peak, with corrupt Filipinos who break into the world of one wealthy man. I found The Curious Resemblance to the Case of the Speckled Band by Kim Grant very charming, an amusing postmodern take on Sherlock Holmes about a fan who happens to named Holmes who bumbles and strives to be a detective, and actually has a wife named Watson. And The House by Melanie Ho references the board game Clue (known as Cluedo in some countries).

Perhaps the best is saved for last with Ian Greenfield’s story Mr Tse and the Pied Piper of Homantin, which ties the entire anthology together well. The story is both a crime story, and an homage to fairy tales of old. A great satire full of quips on Hong Kongers complex relationship with mainlanders, the shallowness of pop stars, and the prevalence of parent’s dependence on tutors. Ostensibly a retelling of the Pied Piper (also with Snow White, Miss Muffet, and even vampires therein), Mr Tse finds a way to use its structure lambaste nearly everyone in Hong Kong.

Like any anthology, Of Gods and Mobsters has many different short stories of various styles and each may not suit all readers. However, no matter a reader’s preference it cannot be denied that the quality is always high. Not to mention, there are also poems of depth sprinkled within for yet more diversity if one isn’t just into prose. The only major criticism, as it goes with expat literature, is that much of it might only make sense if the audience is familiar with the area. One frequent phrase is “Fragrant Harbour”, which of course is a literal translation of the characters for Hong Kong, but that wouldn’t necessarily be known to most around the world. Nonetheless, for fans of the region the book is sure to have many stories exemplifying the spirit of 香港…

Available in Hong Kong bookstores and on Amazon.com.

 

 

 

Not bungee-jumping in Guangzhou

Here in China, we recently celebrated the National Day holiday which remembers the founding of the modern People’s Republic of China’s founding in 1949. Whether you are a communist or not, everybody gets the day off and it’s time to go on a trip…

Having recently moved, me and my girlfriend wanted to check out the train station in nearby walking distance from our new home. Shenzhen and Guangzhou are very close, by the way, and so it was decided we’d take a trip for a couple of days to the big(ger) city!

It does tend to get very crowded on Chinese holidays. The train didn’t even have seats, although we did sit in the dining car most of the way. Luckily, Guangzhou wasn’t that bad. I suppose most people go to the more popular tourist spots and the first-tier cities get emptied out.

Nice time. I like going to the provincial capital on occasion. Although I prefer living Shenzhen–where it seems slightly less depressing to me somehow.

 

Is it bad to celebrate #RoshHashana by going to a delicious #Muslim restaurant? 😀

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We went to eat delicious Turkish food in Taojin, and African food in Sanyuanli. The Muslim and African neighborhoods of GZ are excellent places to walk around and explore the scene. Then we made a day of going to Baiyun Mountain, as tourist as it gets there. The cable car made for an amazing view.

What I really wanted to do was go bungee jumping! Lately I’ve been feeling like a need to do something drastic to fight off the haunting ennui of life, and jumping off a cliff might just do the trick. However, after psyching myself and mustering up all the willpower I could muster, when I got there they said it was sold out for the day and I had to reserve 24-hours early 😦

Turns out the crowds were a factor after all. Very frustrating. Well at least I saved money. Maybe next time I’m in town, and it’s not a holiday and I can just show up and spontaneously do it.

 

Made the most of the trip anyhow. A small carnival, some archery. Finally, dim sum the next morning and we went back to good ol’ Shenzhen.

The lesson is: don’t have a normal job and make your own schedule for vacations. (I don’t, but my girlfriend does)

Lastly here’s my Facebook album if you’d like to see more~

https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10154194430368411.1073741898.507883410&type=1&l=8289d48e12