I must confess that the only prose I read nowadays are rock bios. Even back when I did read fiction, it was science-fiction that I preferred (and still do). What to do? I am a serial escapist after all (as this webzine aptly proves).
Of late, I have been lecturing on the Art of Story – breaking down the elements of story-telling to 17 and 18 year olds who mostly do not read books, and whose main exposure to stories is via computer games, film/TV and even comic books.
Well, in the course of this module, I’ve had had to read short stories by several Singaporean writers (like Alfian Sa’at and Daren Shiau) and whilst the writing is good, I found sometimes the focus and range to be too narrow (although that is probably the intent) and the emphasis on nostalgia at times claustrophobic.
So how did I stumble upon Ministry of Moral Panic (2013), the debut collection of short stories from Amanda Lee Koe? Well, I actually met her recently and I found her pretty … interesting and thus my curiosity was piqued to check her out – I mean, her writing.
Over at her publisher Epigram Books website, the first story – Flamingo Valley – is available for sampling. The tale of 60s Pop YeYe singer Deddy Haikal and his fan Ling Ko Mui told through present circumstances and past remembrances. Naturally, the subject matter caught my fancy and I was hooked. I picked up the book and introduced myself to the Singapore that Lee Koe observes through her vivid imagination.
Her lens is that of the millennial (hipster?) Singaporean – highly educated and liberal minded, armed with kaleidoscopic pop culture knowledge and unafraid to explore sexual themes within the repressive Singaporean context. Sounds like perfection to me!
Thus entries like Pawn, Chick, Every Park On This Island and especially Alice You Must Be the Fulcrum Of Your Own Universe, resonated with me the most. I loved the matter of fact manner in which Lee Koe addressed issues the mainstream might consider bizarre and improper.
In Alice, Lee Koe confronted head-on the question of whether a very big age difference prevented two women from being intimate friends. It seems like a ridiculous query in her narrative but as always social norms get in the way. Which presumably is the message.
Lee Koe’s writing style is crisp and immediate. Easy on the eye most of the time although there were times where unnecessary literary references were awkwardly thrown in. Sure I appreciate discovering new things but sometimes one should not have to google every reference in a story just to appreciate its full import. Still that’s a very minor complaint, if at all.
Definitely, a writer to keep a close eye on.
You can get Ministry of Moral Panic at most book stores or direct from Epigram.