fiction, review

Kritikus Adinan

30776032578_9fd8f484bdKritikus Adinan is one of several books by Budi Darma that recently got republished. Previously released under the title Laki-Laki dalam Secarik Surat in 2008, last year it had a chance to see the light again with a new one, referring to one of the short stories on its table of contents. Here the senior writer holds his very view on morality—which doesn’t sound preachy, but is not unclear, either—and his surrealistic style as he does in Hotel Tua, with characters mostly unnamed and showing the reader the clear line between what’s right and what’s wrong within the somehow unclear narratives not easily understood.

The collection has fifteen short stories mostly written in the 1970s while the rest without any time stamp. Just as in Hotel Tua, Budi Darma starts the book with a shocking, unbelievable tale where readers, at some point, have to question their sanity in order to get into and understand it. Krematorium Itu Untukku is a story of a sick man who has promised his friend to attend her father’s funeral. He comes earlier, but no one’s there. He keeps waiting and asking people—who, for some unknown reason, keep looking at him in a weird way and secretly laughing at him—if anyone has come and whether the funeral has actually started and he is late. But no one knows, and so he keeps waiting there, until he finally finds his way to the right crematorium. There, he doesn’t get a warm welcome and is attacked by the doorman instead. And that is not the weirdest thing he finds at the crematorium. His friend Corrie, and Tien, look so much older than they should be, or at least than he thinks they should be. And, in the middle of his confusion, he’s sweating and crying blood. More unexpectedly, all people present lift him up then put him into one of the burning booths and burn him like a dead body.

Sahabat Saya Bruce is also one of the first pieces here. Those who already know Budi Darma and frequently enjoy his works must have known that he often writes stories with foreign backgrounds and characters, all thanks to his long stay in the United States back then. This piece of story is one of them, so it should not be surprising to see the name Bruce on the title. It is unusually not surrealistic, but it is still strange in many ways and so hard to chew.

Through Burhan, the narrator whom we see everything from, the reader knows that Bruce is not there when he comes to visit him in his rented house. It looks like a house which has not been inhabited for a long time: dirty, everything is in disorder. Burhan thinks it’s weird, because they’ve been close friends for quite long and the fact that Bruce is suddenly gone without telling him sort of bewilders him. However, when you see it from one side, it’s not really weird for Bruce is basically indeed a weird person. One day he asks Burhan to marry Milann, saying that Milann likes him and all. But while Milann is not Bruce’s girlfriend, the request is not something Burhan can wrap aroud his mind because, in fact, Milann often spends her time with Bruce. And then, both Bruce and Milann are gone, just leaving without telling Burhan a word. He is as much in the dark as everyone else, but he is the one who is being suspected.

This book, in its entirety, is very thought-provoking and very funny in a cynical way. Some stories might hit the reader in the cruelest way possible yet they won’t probably realize it until one or two sentences punch them in their head. The story Laki-Laki Lain for instance, which basically talks about a husband-wife relationship. It is only natural that husbands and wives know each other very well, but here, Budi Darma gives somekind of a hint that that’s actually when they start to hate each other. If we just think about it, then there must be something about our spouse that we hate after years and years living together. Though, on the other hand, this shortcoming is also what sticks them perhaps forever. However, ironically, the more we know our spouse, the more we feel we don’t know them.

“Laki-laki sudah ditakdirkan untuk tidak mampu mengalahkan nafsunya sendiri, dan perempuan telanjur sudah diciptakan untuk memperbudak nafsu laki-laki.” – page 228.

There is also Dua Laki-Laki, a pretty long tale telling us how people, in general, always try to prove that they’re right and others are wrong. Even to their death they won’t let others’ opinions win. Bambang Subali Budiman is interesting, too. In the afternote, Budi Darma states that what brought him to write this short story was a particular discussion on Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Young Goodman Brown, which is related to one aspect of Puritan life in New England back in the 19th century where people were so afraid of devils and their bad influence that people tried so hard to prevent it. But they didn’t realize the more they tried to purify themselves, the more rooms existed for devils to enter and control them. This idea then develops within the story, displaying implicitly that people are basically hypocrites, doing good deeds not because they are good people, or for the sake of others, but only for their own benefit, if only to get good karma in return.

There are layers and layers in each and every narrative presented in Kritikus Adinan and all of them are down to three recurring themes: humanity, morality and conscience. It has the same tone as Hotel Tua: not preachy, but hammering over and over again into the reader’s mind what is right and what is wrong, subtly yet strongly. The writer clearly wants readers to see through those layers of smoke their own conscience. Is it good, or bad? Are you good people, or not? Have you done something wrong? And even if you’re doing good deeds, is it for real? And the best of all, Budi Darma does it in his surrealistic style, which is clouding his intention even more, making this book something to ponder about and not some kind of tool to judge. If there is any shortcoming, it’s just that several stories read longer than they should, dragging a bit too much before finally getting the reader to the point. But still, its significance doesn’t miss the target.

All in all, Kritikus Adinan is a short-story collection anyone would expect from Budi Darma. The beauty of his surrealism alone is an enough reason for readers to plunge into his typical narrative of morality and conscience, even if they would like to do nothing but dismiss it. All the mostly-unnamed characters are also beautifully drawn: very flawed, with a good side that can only be seen from one narrow angle. This book is truly a masterpiece.

Rating: 4/5

comic books, review

Xiao Ao Jiang Hu: The Manhua


As we know, or at least as all wuxia junkies know, Jin Yong’s martial arts novels have inspired so many television series, movies, games, and even comic books—either the faithful ones or the I-don’t-care-I-just-want-to-make-money ones. But there are a few which stray a little from the original storylines but were done wholeheartedly and with so much enthusiasm that they manage to keep the spirit of the works being adapted. The manhua version of Xiao Ao Jiang Hu (or, in English widely known as The Smiling, Proud Wanderer) is one of those few. Created by Lee Chi Ching and first published in Hong Kong in 2002, this set of 26 volumes succeeds in delivering the heart of the story in its own style, but still with its unfortunate shortcoming.

First thing first, here I must confess that I’m still nowhere near done reading the whole four volumes of the book. However, from the first volume’s five chapters I’ve slowly read I gather that Lee Chi Ching has his own way of introducing the story to the reader. Instead of starting it with Lin Pingzhi’s incident when he is out hunting, just as in the book, in volume one Lee opens the story with some kind of reflection on what jiang hu is, on repaying kindness and taking revenge, on who belong to the orthodox sect and who members of the demon cult are and the clear line between them, and lastly, who will be the last to laugh.

Lee subsequently goes on to tell the backstory where the Huashan Sword School’s disciples are on their way to Hengshan to attend Liu Zhengfeng’s hand-washing ceremony, and how Linghu Chong strays away alone drinking then accidentally meets Yi Lin. This, and the fight between him and Tian Boguang in the darkened cave, are not told by Yi Lin herself in a flashback, as they are in the novel, but rather stand on their own to usher the reader to the point where we’ll finally see Lin Pingzhi—battered, angry, hopeless and restless under the pouring rain—on his journey to save his parents.

Narrativewise, I found it a better way to begin the story: it’s more enjoyable, less boring, and quite exciting. Not that I dare to question Jin Yong’s intelligence and ability in storytelling, it’s just so much better this way. This lack-of-excitement in the original book’s opening was the reason why I needed weeks just to finish the first chapter while I wasted no time in devouring the entire volumes of the manhua in succession. The manhua version really is a page-turner, with fighting-while-sitting between Linghu Chong and Tian Boguang and Lin family’s unfortunate demise being displayed in turn. It’s easy to catch up and the reader can easily get the idea of the fate that will later get the main characters finally meet.

And Lee goes on using the same style, but mostly he keeps his work faithful to, or at least in line with, the original storyline. But even though Lee seems to mix his own way of story introduction with the narrative Jin Yong has already set up, the entire plot doesn’t fail. It is so engaging and nice to follow and makes sense. I think Lee knows that this way, his manhua will be more effective in delivering the story yet at the same time doesn’t lose its charm as comic books.

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However, the enjoyable narrative is not accompanied by enjoyable pictures. It’s such a shame because it is a manhua, a.k.a comic books, where what readers enjoy most are the pictures. For one thing, the characters’ depictions here are not consistent. At times they look just as they should be, but at other times they look older, too much older to be in line with how they are portrayed in the book. Especially, much to my disappointment, the character images of Ren Yingying, our female lead. Lee actually has drawn her very well and beautifully, but in some parts she often looks much, much older. She’s supposed to be 17 or 18, isn’t she? And she is known to have a very long hair, so why so short? This is also the case with Linghu Chong’s portrayal, but the inconsistency is pretty less in number.

   yilin-manhuaversion   yuebuqun-manhuaversion   yuelingshan-manhuaversion

In general, frankly speaking, the characters’ pictures are quite good and pretty well done. They look so “classic”, unlike those drawings Tony Wong did. I can say I like Lee’s style of manhua. But, once again, the drawing here seems to be the biggest shortcoming of the entire 26 volumes. Besides the inconsistency, it also has a problem with how Lee represents the fighting scenes. Some look nice, some look just okay, and some look very confusing. Sometimes I couldn’t catch up with the sword movements and where they are pointed to, and that’s a very big problem to me. What’s the point of reading a martial arts manhua when you cannot enjoy the martial arts?


So overall, this manhua version of Xiao Ao Jiang Hu is more appealing in terms of narrative, but not quite in terms of drawing. It just didn’t really live up to my expectation. Not completely disappointing, but I think it should have been better artistically.

Rating: 3.5/5

fiction, review

Yang Fana Adalah Waktu

45672761421_bdea8c9e40While in Hujan Bulan Juni: Novel Sapardi Djoko Damono dares question identities, and later unfolding the disturbing restlessness of divided feelings in Pingkan Melipat Jarak, here in Yang Fana Adalah Waktu the acclaimed senior writer doesn’t seem to show the slightest inclination to give his loyal readers an answer to the big question marks formed back-to-back in the two previous books. Instead, he poses another one, “Is it necessary to question love?” And, to make it even more complicated, is there really any line between existence and non-existence? What does exist and what does not exist?

The last of the trilogy starts with Sarwono’s surreal pondering over his feelings for Pingkan: not a question, it’s more of an affirmation that there is only them, and nothing beyond that. There is only their love, and anything else doesn’t exist. Their relationship, so it seems, is on a very straight path, no twists, no turns, not even a station to stop by. Their love is so true and unquestionable there is no need to make it otherwise.

However, what gets in their way is another’s doubt about another’s relationship. Katsuo, as we know from the two previous books is another man in love with Pingkan, asks her to come and see his fiancée Noriko, the girl personally chosen by his mother. At first Pingkan doesn’t get as to why she should meet the young woman she doesn’t even know who is engaged to the man that loves her in secret. Even if she is the reason why Katsuo feels reluctant to marry Noriko, and she’s aware of it, she doesn’t think she has anything to do with their relationship. But then she sees that Noriko rightly suspects her to be the hindrance to her engagement with Katsuo, and so demands to see her in person. Temporarily uncertain, Pingkan eventually goes to see Noriko, and, unexpectedly, Noriko likes her. So much for jealousy.

Now, the question this book seems to ask, “Is it necessary to question love?” In Pingkan’s and Sarwono’s case, the answer is definitely no. They know they love each other, they know they’re walking on the same path and that anything outside it just doesn’t exist. But they’re also aware that there is another man between them, and, in turn, that Pingkan becomes another woman getting in the way of Katsuo’s and Noriko’s already complicated relationship. And Pingkan is pretty much aware, too, of her role in that brittle engagement so she, eventually, agrees to meet Noriko and solve all the uncertainties there are. Although, in the end, she doesn’t quite solve anything because things get more and more complicated instead, as Noriko puts her engagement on hold and runs away to pursue what she wants to be.

If a question about love is not enough, then Mr. Sapardi gives you another one. In line with Hujan Bulan Juni: Novel and Pingkan Melipat Jarak, Yang Fana Adalah Waktu has also “otherness” as its issue, though not quite in the center of it all like in the first book. Being a liyan, or, that is to say, an alien, is something that Pingkan and Noriko share, as a Javanese-Manadonese and American-Japanese respectively, something that makes it hard for them to be accepted the way they are. But it is what happens most of the time to people like them—people of mixed blood, people who seem to have their feet at two places at the same time and can’t even decide who/what they are, much less getting people’s recognition. This, and its complexity in marriage, is actually a very interesting issue which I don’t think will get old anytime soon and that the writer addressed so well and so thoroughly in Hujan Bulan Juni. Unfortunately, he didn’t do the same here in the last installment. What Noriko has to face as an American-Japanese is merely sort of put on there as an adornment and never gets more attention.

And that is precisely the shortcoming of this novel: that barely anything getting explored properly—not Pingkan’s and Sarwono’s quirky but sweet relationship (they too much talk about somebody else’s), not Katsuo’s and Noriko’s planned, conflicted engagement, not even the “otherness” issue that deserves more room here. Everything appears to run halfway and then stop without further explanation. Well, Mr. Sapardi said that he had promised this series would be a trilogy, so a trilogy it is. But even so, there should be something completed, one or two things concluded. I won’t blame him for leaving the story hanging, but at the very least he could just talk about the sense of alienation more the way he did in Hujan Bulan Juni and so made the narrative strong enough to read. This book, in my honest opinion, is not the end of a trilogy. It’s a goodbye without saying why.

That’s said, Yang Fana Adalah Waktu is still a nice romance novel. The interaction between Pingkan and Sarwono is always loveable, while his with his parents is forever funny (if you understand Javanese language and culture). And Mr. Sapardi is ever poetic, though he didn’t apply that style to the dialogues, which, otherwise, would make them sound weird and unnatural. This book undoubtedly has everything I love about Mr. Sapardi’s fiction works: the jokes, the smooth and poetic narrative, the social issue and criticism (though not thoroughly elaborated), and the impartial characters (Sarwono, from the very beginning, has more or less reminded me of Soekram).

So, in conclusion, Yang Fana Adalah Waktu is basically a lovely book about love. It just lacks the thing that can make it more powerful, especially when it ends with a bit unpleasant cliffhanger. It looks like intentionally designed to be so, and yes, that’s where it hurts. So frankly speaking, among the three installments of this so-called Hujan Bulan Juni trilogy, the first book is still the best one.

Rating: 3.5/5

fiction, review

Hotel Tua

hotel tuaHotel Tua comprises 18 Budi Darma’s short stories dating from the 70s to the first decade of 2000s. It perhaps deserves to get dubbed the modern classic of the genre, although Orang-Orang Bloomington obviously gets the more fame and critical acclaim. This new collection is not to be underrated, though, what with all its twisted narratives and quiet but sharp criticisms on several issues.

The book starts with a short piece entitled Pistol, the best, the most deceitfully constructed, and undoubtedly the most feminist story of all which is not actually talking about a gun. If men have their pride and dignity, it is in their sex and sexuality. What perpetual ideas do most men have in their mind but that they’re sexually superior to women, and that they will and can sexually conquer them? The main male character of Pistol finds it hard to bear embarrassment knowing that his impotance has been widespread among the women he’s ever been with, thanks to the widow who has been his lover for some time. This alone has caused him feeling resentful and vengeful, and seeing the widow mocking him out-and-out spurs his hatred even more. There is just no other way but to take his revenge on her.

Equally talking about equality, Distrik Rodham comes second to Pistol. Its theme is broader, however, encompassing interclass problems in a society and questions whether or not all human beings are truly created equal and thus must be treated equal. Set in Rodham, New England, this longer story describes in simple detail how the society there was first formed, and how they live their lives and change through the years and generations. Class differentiation—hence discrimination—is inevitable, since it’s only natural for people to live in “diversity”, in every sense of the word. But is this then an enough reason to bury people in different places and build fences to affirm the socio-class differences? Is it just or unjust to put human beings in burial grounds based on their social status, when they’re already dead and all they had in life does not matter anymore?

When it comes to criticism, Budi Darma does try to make it as subtle yet piercing as possible at times. And who doesn’t want to criticize the way of our dirty politics and deep-rooted corruption when you have a pen and a piece of paper at hand? In stories like Tangan-Tangan Buntung and Dua Sahabat the senior writer definitely shows his forte at this. I could almost imagine a smirk on his face as he was writing Tangan-Tangan Buntung especially, a surreal story about a made-up country reigned by a certain dynasty whose corrupt character seems incurable. And this trait never leaves said country even when it has changed into a democratic one where a ruler is elected. In Dua Sahabat Budi Darma is even more cynical through his narrative, implying (if what he does is truly implying) that our evil politicians have made corruptors and villains our parliamentary representatives. Where is the shame?

As well as equality and dirty politics, Hotel Tua also keeps religious matters and human-God relationship up its sleeve for readers. Before you even realize it some numbers spring up with narratives pointing out defects in our morality, like Mata yang Indah, Kisah Pilot Bejo, and Derabat. Those stories do not try to be preachy, though, they merely reveal what humans are like, and what they should be like with a touch of religious teaching that I believe readers won’t really mind. Gauhati is starker in showcasing this value, with a clear moral teaching on being honest, kind-hearted, and doing good deeds. It’s just Budi Darma doesn’t appear to force the reader to accept his ideas, nor does he look like he thinks he is the most righteous person in the world trying to make things right. No, it does not show in his writing style.

The old writer is very astute in consctructing exquisite tales, wielding sentences that appear to be so-so but then lure the reader into his inescapable trap: moral values, spirituality, criticisms of the high-ranking officials. He is a “good writer” without trying to state that he is. What’s more, he’s so full of surprise. His writing is like the embodiment of “saying this but actually meaning that”, a tricky road that readers won’t feel suspicious of until they arrive at the real destination. And he is often economical in what he’s saying, no dragging plot whatsoever. Though readers may find some stories quite long, they’re not boring or anything.

Hotel Tua is a collection of mostly surreal short stories which in fact speaks reality. It feels heavy with ideas and thoughts yet is written in a fairly light style. It is luring, it is beguiling, and it teaches you something without burdening you with pretentious teachings. It’s definitely one of the best short-story collections I’ve ever read.

Rating: 4.5/5

fiction, review


41710031310_603d6ea3e0Jika domestisitas dapat dianggap sebagai lambang “keterkungkungan” kaum perempuan, petualangan bisa jadi adalah salah satu cara untuk memberontak. Novel Gentayangan karya Intan Paramaditha, yang diterbitkan oleh Gramedia Pustaka Utama di akhir tahun 2017 lalu, menggambarkan bagaimana “pemberontakan” ini terjadi. Dan tidak hanya satu atau dua, tetapi ada banyak petualangan yang terangkum dalam novel ini berikut dengan berbagai cabang jalan yang bisa dipilih sendiri—yang menunjukkan bahwa tokoh utama/pembaca/kita berhak untuk memperoleh pilihan dan mengambil salah satu atau bahkan semuanya.

Sejak awal narator telah memperkenalkan sang tokoh utama—dalam sudut pandang orang kedua—sebagai seorang perempuan yang gelisah: gelisah dengan kehidupannya yang begitu-begitu saja dan karena menetap di situ-situ saja, di kota yang sama sepanjang hidupnya, di negerinya, di dalam “rumahnya”. Kau, demikian narator memanggil sang tokoh utama, bosan dan ingin pergi, bertualang, mengalami hal lain di tempat lain. Maka kau membuat perjanjian dengan Iblis, lantaran jalan lain sudah tak mungkin diraih, dan dari sang Iblis kau mendapat sepasang sepatu merah cantik yang akan membawamu ke tempat lain secepat jentikan jari. Kau pun terbangun di New York, Amerika Serikat, tapi di sana kau tak tahu siapa dirimu dan apa yang kau perbuat sebelum berada di dalam taksi menuju bandara.

Di bandara JFK jalanmu mulai bercabang: kembali ke kehidupanmu di New York dan mencari tahu siapa dirimu, melaporkan kehilangan sepatu merahmu ke kantor polisi, atau tetap pergi ke Berlin sebagaimana yang telah kaurencanakan. Memilih salah satu mungkin tidaklah sulit, tetapi petualangan berikutnya dipenuhi cabang dan hal-hal tak terduga. Ambillah pilihan pertama, maka bisa saja kau akan jadi imigran gelap, lantaran visamu telah kedaluwarsa, dan terpaksa menikahi pria yang tidak kaucintai demi mendapatkan green card. Atau bisa jadi kau harus bekerja rendahan, meski kau berpendidikan tinggi, demi bertahan hidup karena uangmu sudah menipis. Jika kauambil pilihan kedua, tidak ada yang tahu akan sampai di mana dirimu, karena makhluk tak dikenal membawamu pergi. Lantas, andai kata pilihan ketigalah yang kauambil, kemungkinan kau akan mengalami hal-hal yang sepertinya mustahil. Bertemu hantu, misalnya. Atau jatuh cinta pada seorang wanita.

“Cewek baik masuk surga, cewek bandel gentayangan” adalah satu kalimat yang berulang kali muncul hampir di sepanjang novel Gentayangan. Dari kalimat ini dapat dilihat bahwa kebalikan dari cewek bandel—cewek yang bakal masuk surga—adalah cewek baik-baik yang tidak ke mana-mana, cewek “rumahan”, cewek yang selalu berdiam di ranah domestik. Walau sang tokoh utama bukan tipe cewek “rumahan” dalam artian harfiah, dengan demikian bukan pula cewek “baik-baik”, fakta bahwa dia selalu berada di ranah domestik, yaitu di dalam negerinya sendiri tanpa pernah melihat dunia luar, cukup untuk mendorongnya melakukan pemberontakan: “kelayapan”, bertualang ke sana kemari, sekalipun dia harus membuat perjanjian dengan setan. Singkat kata, kau memberontak dari domestisitas dengan bergentayangan.

Kendati secara keseluruhan karya ketiga Intan Paramaditha ini berbicara tentang cewek bandel yang nekat keluyuran demi menembus batas-batas rumahnya, sebagaimana alurnya yang bercabang-cabang problema wanita yang diangkat di sini pun beragam. Dalam bab Kisah Cinta Tetangga contohnya, penulis seolah ingin menunjukkan betapa sulitnya posisi seorang wanita yang mencintai dua orang pria sekaligus tetapi hanya dapat terikat pada satu pernikahan saja. Mengapa pria bisa berpoligami, sedangkan wanita tak bisa melakukan poliandri? Namun satu hal yang cukup menggelitik pada bab ini adalah bagaimana penulis menyiratkan adanya rasa persaingan dalam diri perempuan—yang bisa jadi “lumrah”—ketika kau merasa iri pada tetanggamu yang mampu memiliki hati pria pujaanmu, padahal dia tidak lebih cantik darimu. Di sinilah standar kecantikan turut dipertanyakan, sebab nyata-nyatanya standar kecantikan berbeda-beda bagi setiap orang.

Bersamaan dengan petualangan sang tokoh utama, penulis sejatinya tidak hanya mengangkat isu-isu yang berkenaan dengan perempuan, tetapi juga identitas dan batas-batas negara, pun dengan superioritas serta hak-hak istimewa dunia pertama. Penulis juga menyiratkan, secara paradoksikal, bahwa ke mana pun kita pergi, senekat apa pun kita melewati batas demi batas, sering kali kita merindukan rumah dan ingin pulang—entah setelahnya kita puas berada di dalam kurungan atau kembali ingin menghirup udara bebas. Sebagaimana yang tertera pada subjudul novel: pilih sendiri petualangan sepatu merahmu.

Dengan skema memilih sendiri petualangan yang ingin dijalani ini, pembaca bebas untuk mengambil jalan mana pun yang telah disediakan oleh penulis: jalan pertama, jalan kedua, atau bahkan jika hendak menyusuri semua jalan yang tersedia pun tidak ada yang melarang. Di satu sisi, alur yang beragam semacam ini terkesan sangat kreatif, dan penulis tampak begitu pandai dalam menyusun subplot demi subplot secara acak yang lantas bermuara pada beberapa akhir tak terduga. Selain bebas memilih jalan cerita yang lebih disukai, pembaca juga dapat membebaskan imajinasi mereka akan alur yang digelar di depan mata. Namun, di sisi lain, jalan cerita yang mengandung pilihan seperti ini juga memperlihatkan bahwa manusia tidaklah sepenuhnya bebas dan kita sesungguhnya tidak mempunyai banyak pilihan, karena toh di setiap tikungan hanya tersedia dua (paling banyak tiga) pilihan. Itu pun kadang-kadang pembaca (atau sang tokoh utama) mesti menghadapi jalan buntu dan kembali ke pilihan sebelumnya. Di dunia ini sejatinya memang tidak ada kebebasan absolut, dan penulis—di tengah keinginannya untuk membebaskan pembaca—justru tanpa sengaja merefleksikan hal tersebut.

Akan tetapi ini adalah satu-satunya cacat yang terdapat dalam novel Gentayangan (jika pembaca berbaik hati tidak menghitung salah ketik yang bertebaran di sana-sini), karena Intan Paramaditha mampu menampilkan gaya penulisan yang sangat bagus dan enak dibaca, narasi yang unik dan asyik, serta sangat terampil memadukan nuansa horor, realisme, dan mistis sehingga ketiganya terasa begitu menyatu dan, ajaibnya, tidak mengada-ada. Sang penulis juga berusaha menyajikan berbagai sudut pandang dan tidak menghakimi siapa pun dalam hal apa pun yang ia kritik, baik itu persoalan tragedi 1965, genosida kaum Yahudi, terlemparnya orang-orang Palestina dari tanah mereka sendiri, maupun perkara budaya patriarki yang ia lawan dalam karya apik ini.

Gentayangan bisa dibilang merupakan sebuah karya pemberontakan. Kendati tidak begitu berhasil dalam membebaskan pembaca, setidak-tidaknya novel ini berusaha memberikan pilihan jalan cerita dan narasi yang berbeda. Selain itu, ia berusaha untuk menerjang batasan-batasan genre yang selama ini kita ketahui dengan menyodorkan gabungan dari berbagai kategori fiksi yang amat luar biasa hasilnya. Karya Intan Paramaditha ini sangat layak untuk dibaca.

Rating: 4.5/5

fiction, review

Raden Mandasia Si Pencuri Daging Sapi

26645719467_57e1339154It is not uncommon for us to enjoy adventure/fantasy books, but perhaps it’s pretty hard to find the real gem here in Indonesia, much less the historical one with a grand journey and multiple characters and truly enjoyable narrative that sucks the reader right up from the very first page. Raden Mandasia Si Pencuri Daging Sapi by Yusi Avianto Pareanom is certainly such a one. Pareanom really has it in him to do just that: making his reader sit tight in their chair while devouring his rich tale till the end. It wouldn’t be proper to call Raden Mandasia vastly extravagant for its lack of thorough descriptions here and there, but it has its own charm that strike almost everyone in awe.

Long before embarking on a grand voyage to the barely heard of yet widely famous for its ethereally beautiful princess Kingdom of Gerbang Agung, Sungu Lembu has held a grudge against the Kingdom of Gilingwesi for what it did to his land and family back in the past. He’s sworn that he’d do anything to take his revenge on his prime enemy King Watugunung, even if it seems so impossible. Hence the need for going on the long, unpredictable journey in which he’s following Raden Mandasia, the twelfth prince of Gilingwesi with a rather eccentric hobby of stealing beef whom he accidentally met in a gambling house, on the equally impossible mission to stop an impending war. Together, they are going through an adventure that both exciting and challenging yet sometimes inexplicably absurd: fighting pirates, bumping into a Chinese man who cannot speak their language but insists on engaging them in conversation, watching a holy messenger being swallowed by a monstrous whale, meeting a conceited cook who has been serving roast pork to his master everyday for ten whole years, running from a stormy wind in the desert as they lose their horses, entering the tightly guarded palace of a princess in a eunuch’s skin (yes, skin), only to see their aim crumbling all around them along with Gerbang Agung’s city wall the soldiers of Gilingwesi break down and the fall of dead people from the sky. The result of the unavoidable war is so far from being decided. And, not unlike the mission Raden Mandasia was carrying, Sungu Lembu’s heartfelt hatred is starting to turn the different path.

At a glimpse Raden Mandasia looks like an adventure story following two young men who are making journey together with respective missions of their own, one to save a kingdom and the other to destroy it in secret. Others may look at it as an historical martial arts novel, since in some senses it quite resembles those written by Jin Yong, with historical backgrounds strewed everywhere (albeit very vaguely blurred), training and practice of martial arts being performed by the main character, and fighting scenes littered so many parts of the book. But it might actually be an historical fantasy fiction, a form of made-up tale set in the past complete with based-on-true-tradition kingdoms, otherwise fictitious kings and queens, princes and princesses, wars, though minus weird creatures, mystery or myth, and magic. It might be a blend of those three, however, considering the so many various elements making up this wonderful, exciting, vulgarly funny fictional creation. It’s so hard to decide what kind of book this actually is, but for sure it’s not an out-and-out story of physical adventure, despite the writer’s insistence on throwing the characters from one place to another, from one experience to another, from one out-of-this-world event to another, from encountering one interesting person to another, etc. It’s a quest for an answer, the true answer, to what is war and what is the act of revenge (or is it truly worth it), to what is important and what will be in vain, what is true and what is false (much like the nature of the tale itself) and where the thin line lies.

Yusi Avianto Pareanom has truly showed his writing prowess with Raden Mandasia, its subplots are excellently and carefully structured, its characters are all gray but not without conscience, the historical, cultural and geographical backgrounds are veiled ever so cleverly that they leave the reader guessing: where is it? who is it? what is it? At some point in the story I found myself trying so hard to uncover where is it actually the Kingdom of Gerbang Agung until I realized that it actually is the place I’ve been wanting to go to. From front to back Pareanom presents a very neat storyline in which he takes upon himself to become both the narrator and the protagonist, telling his tale precariously from the first person’s point of view, where he has to relies upon encountering and listening to other characters’ stories to gather and arrange all installments of the entire narrative. It’s surely not an easy task for an author not to get caught in a trap of writing using this kind of POV, but Pareanom nailed it. And he did it with hilarious tone and an unadorned, vulgar style of telling that have readers staying in their seats while laughing and cursing just like the narrator does. Raden Mandasia is an extensive work without being grueling nor boring, complicated without being confusing, it’s a masterpiece without asking to be so. Such a shame, however, that even with its strong climax and trying-to-be-epic battle scenes, its ending fails to conclude the story elaborately and satisfyingly, seeming to run too fast instead. It is understandable if the writer wanted to end it as briefly as possible without having to prolong it anymore, but still.

At the end, Raden Mandasia Si Pencuri Daging Sapi is a very rare work of fiction. We might have had this kind of adventure tale somewhere in our contemporary period of literature, but this novel by Yusi Avianto Pareanom is absolutely one of a kind. Despite its lack of detailed descriptions of almost everything and fast-foward ending, it’s still an engrossing book everyone can and should enjoy.

Rating: 4/5

fiction, review

Bajak Laut & Purnama Terakhir: Sebuah Komedi Sejarah

40500774525_b90bc2836fKetika mendengar kata pahlawan, mungkin yang terpikir oleh kita adalah sifat-sifat seperti gagah berani, berbudi pekerti luhur, kuat secara fisik, cerdas, serta rela berkorban untuk membela kebenaran dan membasmi kejahatan demi kepentingan orang banyak.

Pahlawan adalah panutan, contoh, idola, sosok manusia tanpa cela yang “didewakan” dan dipuja-puja. Karena itulah seorang pahlawan selalu dijadikan protagonis atau tokoh utama dalam kisah-kisah klasik maupun dalam kisah-kisah masa kini yang masih memakai patokan lama demi menyampaikan moral cerita kepada pembaca dengan lebih mudah dan gamblang, mengingat pahlawan selalu putih dan penjahat selalu hitam.

Namun bagaimana jika karakter yang dipasang sebagai protagonis memiliki sifat-sifat ambigu? Tidak hitam, tetapi juga tidak putih? Bagaimana jika alih-alih kepentingan orang banyak, sang protagonis hanya memikirkan diri sendiri? Bagaimana jika alih-alih berdecak kagum, sang protagonis justru membuat pembaca muak?

Di zaman modern, formula tokoh protagonis sudah banyak bergeser, tokoh-tokoh dengan karakter ambigu semakin banyak dipasang sebagai pemeran utama. Adhitya Mulya pun menghadirkan formula modern yang sama dalam karya terbarunya, Bajak Laut & Purnama Terakhir: Sebuah Komedi Sejarah.

Berlatar tahun 1667 pada masa kekuasaan V.O.C. (perlu diketahui bahwa pada saat itu Nusantara belum diduduki oleh negeri Belanda, karena V.O.C. merupakan perusahaan swasta berskala multinasional), Bajak Laut & Purnama Terakhir bercerita tentang pencarian pusaka sakti peninggalan kerajaan Majapahit nyaris 400 tahun sebelumnya.

Lantaran berpotensi bencana, para arya (yang dulu merupakan pengikut setia Raden Wijaya) dan keturunan mereka diwajibkan untuk mengembalikan pusaka sakti tersebut ke tempat asalnya sebelum genap 4200 purnama. Setelah melewati ratusan tahun dan banyaknya arya serta keturunan mereka yang berguguran, delapan dari sepuluh pusaka berhasil dikembalikan ke tempatnya di Pulau Sangeang. Akan tetapi, ketika pusaka kesembilan dan kesepuluh hendak diambil untuk “diantarkan pulang” oleh ketiga keturunan arya yang tersisa, mereka harus berebut dengan seorang admiral V.O.C. yang licik dan ambisius, yang terang-terang memiliki segala sumber daya untuk merenggut pusaka tersebut demi mimpi meraih kuasa lebih.

Jika pembaca mengira tokoh protagonis di sini adalah ketiga keturunan arya yang tersisa—yang berjiwa kesatria, pandai bela diri, dan rela berkorban apa pun demi menjalankan tugas mulia—ia salah, walaupun bukan pula sang admiral yang jelas-jelas berhati kotor. Di antara kedua belah pihak, sang protagonis adalah bajak laut bernama Jaka Kelana, yang digambarkan bukan orang baik-baik (lantaran profesinya), sering kali konyol, kadang kala tolol, pengecut dan tidak memiliki ilmu bela diri apa pun, suka memuji diri sendiri (mungkin pembaca akan lelah dengan omong kosongnya bahwa dia ganteng, padahal menurut deskripsi tidak), dan telah melakukan berbagai macam tindak kriminal mulai dari perampokan bersenjata, pencurian, penculikan, sampai pembunuhan.

Di tengah perebutan pusaka antara ketiga arya dan sang admiral, Jaka Kelana muncul sebagai “pahlawan”, yang membantu ketiga arya mengembalikan pusaka sakti terakhir ke tempatnya dan dengan segala daya upaya menumpas makhluk misterius yang hendak menghancurkan seluruh keturunan Raden Wijaya (makhluk yang bisa jadi mengingatkan pembaca pada naga tidur dalam The Hobbit). Orang macam Jaka Kelana-lah yang kemudian rela berkorban demi menuntaskan misi yang mulia, meskipun dia berbuat demikian lebih karena insting daripada niat menyelamatkan orang banyak.

Jaka Kelana merupakan sosok antihero, protagonis abu-abu dengan karakter yang ambigu. Dia sama sekali bukan sosok idola yang patut dicontoh, apalagi memiliki sifat kepahlawanan sebagaimana lazimnya. Namun dia dirancang sebagai tokoh yang menonjol dan menggerakkan cerita, juga yang menyelesaikannya. Dialah sang pemecah kebuntuan dan “pembasmi kejahatan”. Selain itu, Jaka Kelana juga bukannya tanpa karakter yang (sedikit) mulia. Selain setia kawan, Jaka seseorang yang dapat diandalkan dan sopan (bahkan begitu sopannya hingga terlihat konyol). Sifat-sifat inilah yang menjadikannya bernuansa hitam dan putih sekaligus.

Namun jika kita mau melihat lebih jauh ke belakang pada sejarah (sejarah dalam konteks buku ini, tentunya), Jaka tidak sendiri.

Dalam kisah Bajak Laut (yang tentu saja hanya fiksi belaka), tokoh Raden Wijaya yang selama ini kita kenang (atau kita kenal) sebagai kesatria pendiri sebuah kerajaan digambarkan sebagai sosok yang gila kekuasaan dan rela menghabisi pengikut setianya karena tak ingin kehilangan kekuasaan itu (yang ada hubungannya dengan pusaka sakti yang mesti dikembalikan). Sang raja pertama Majapahit pun dikisahkan tidak ragu-ragu memalsukan catatan sejarah agar generasi yang akan datang hanya mengetahui kehebatan dan kejayaannya, dan bahwa para pengikutnya telah berkhianat dan memberontak, walau sebenarnya tidak demikian.

Bajak Laut & Purnama Terakhir memang hanya kisah rekaan berlatar sejarah masa lalu yang ditulis dengan gaya komedi demi mengundang tawa. Tetapi pembaca tidak hanya dapat mentertawakan kekonyolan adegan dan dialog tokoh-tokohnya, karena tindakan yang diambil oleh Raden Wijaya dalam kisah ini juga dapat menjadi bahan lelucon.

Apa lagi yang lebih lucu dari seorang penguasa, yang demi menjaga kekuasaan dan nama baiknya, tanpa rasa bersalah memutarbalikkan fakta sehingga mengacaukan keaslian sejarah? Apa lagi yang lebih lucu dari kenyataan bahwa kita tidak akan pernah tahu sejarah yang sebenarnya karena bisa jadi ada banyak orang seperti tokoh Raden Wijaya dalam kisah ini? Bahwa apa yang fiksi dan nonfiksi hanya dipisahkan oleh satu garis tipis? Jika memang demikian, bukankah kisah sejarah benar-benar telah menjadi komedi? Jika memang demikian, bukankah sejatinya setiap pahlawan bukanlah pahlawan, layaknya Jaka Kelana dan Raden Wijaya?

Bajak Laut & Purnama Terakhir mungkin bukanlah karya yang dirancang untuk menjadi bacaan yang serius, tetapi justru karya seperti inilah yang seharusnya dianggap serius.

N.B.: resensi ini pernah ditayangkan sebelumnya di Jurnal Ruang.

Rating: 3.5/5

fiction, review

The Girls

41396137951_8e2e70a170Manusia dan identitas tidak dapat dipisahkan. Salah satu makna identitas adalah apa yang melekat pada diri kita, cirri khas yang menunjukkan siapa kita, dari mana asal kita, apa status kita, dan, sering kali, termasuk ke dalam golongan apa kita. Identitas secara tersamar dapat berupa kepercayaan yang dianut, pakaian yang dikenakan, bahasa yang digunakan, tingkah laku atau perilaku, maupun gaya hidup.

Emma Cline menyodorkan kisah yang cukup unik dalam karya fiksi debutnya, The Girls (diterbitkan dalam bahasa Indonesia dengan judul Gadis-Gadis Misterius), berkenaan dengan krisis identitas akibat kegelisahan dan kejemuan masa remaja yang lantas bersinggungan dengan budaya lain yang mempertontonkan identitas nan beda tapi nyata.

Cerita baru benar-benar bergulir pada 1969 dengan kehidupan Evie Boyd, seorang remaja berusia empat belas tahun, yang terkesan tidak menyenangkan: pertemanan yang hanya direkatkan rutinitas, rasa suka bertepuk sebelah tangan terhadap kakak sang sahabat, keluarga kaya yang tidak harmonis hingga tercerai-berai. Sampai suatu saat diam-diam muncul dalam diri Evie perasaan ingin memberontak, ingin merambah sesuatu yang lain, sesuatu yang tidak menjemukan.

Perasaan ini semakin kuat ketika tanpa sengaja ia melihat segerombolan gadis aneh dan misterius di taman, yang tampak dipimpin oleh seorang gadis berambut hitam dan lebih tua dari Evie sendiri. Mereka berpakaian kumal, memakai cincin-cincin murahan, terlihat tidak peduli dengan kehadiran orang sekitar (si gadis berambut hitam sempat menurunkan leher gaunnya hingga memperlihatkan sebelah payudara), dan sangat dekat dengan satu sama lain bak keluarga. Yang membuat Evie lebih tercengang adalah tatkala mereka membongkar tempat sampah di luar sebuah restoran dan mengambil sisa-sisa makanan yang “sekiranya masih bias dimakan.” Bagaimana mungkin ada orang yang mengambil makanan yang sudah dibuang ke tempat sampah? Kecuali dia seorang pengemis. Tetapi gadis-gadis itu bukanlah pengemis.

Di tengah kepenatan Evie menghadapi sang ibu yang berusaha keras bangkit dari keterpurukan setelah bercerai dan mencari pendamping baru (sampai-sampai mengabaikan perasaan putrinya sendiri), Evie akhirnya berbuat nekat: mendekati si gadis berambut hitam, yang kemudian diketahuinya bernama Suzanne, dan memasuki lingkaran gadis-gadis hippie yang tinggal secara komunal di peternakan bobrok di sebuah bukit di Petaluma.

Di sana Evie benar-benar menemukan apa yang ia cari, yaitu sesuatu yang tidak lazim baginya: kumpulan orang (kebanyakan gadis) yang tinggal bersama tanpa ikatan, anak-anak yang entah bagaimana statusnya, pakaian kotor dan seadanya, rumah yang hamper tanpa perabotan, ganja yang dikonsumsi melebihi asupan makanan, cinta yang diumbar secara bebas, serta seorang pemimpin bernama Russell yang dipuja-puja.

Bagi Evie yang bosan dan lelah dengan kehidupannya, semua itu tampak mewah dan menarik luar biasa. Selama dua bulan, ia pun lebih sering tinggal dan menghabiskan waktu di peternakan dan menjadi bagian dari mereka, menjadi seperti mereka. Sampai suatu rencana kekerasan yang tak disadarinya mendorongnya keluar dan melihat kenyataan dari sudut pandang yang berbeda.

Dalam Gadis-GadisMisterius, Emma Cline secara lihai dan memikat menangkap serta menggambarkan karakteristik yang merupakan identitas kaum hippie di Amerika Serikat, setidaknya mereka yang tinggal di California Utara. Hidup di peternakan di bukit—dengan rumah yang nyaris kosong, duduk beralaskan tanah, anak-anak dibiarkan bermain di kolam—sedikit banyak merepresentasikan prinsip kembali-ke-alam yang mereka pegang. Begitu pula dengan pola hidup bersama dalam satu kelompok tanpa status apa pun yang menunjukkan praktik communal living. Hal lain yang dapat mengidentifikasi kelompok tersebut adalah penggunaan obat-obatan seperti LSD (Lysergic acid diethylamide, biasa disebut acid) serta ganja secara sembarangan dan rekreasional, juga penerapan free love (cinta yang bebas) yang kemudian menjadi cikal bakal free sex (seks bebas).

Cline juga secara mendetail menambahkan bus sekolah yang dicat ulang sebagai kendaraan mereka. Hampir segala hal yang dapat kita identifikasikan dengan kaum hippie tersaji secara samar tetapi juga gamblang di saat yang bersamaan, digambarkan dari sudut pandang Evie yang sarat decak kagum akan hal-hal yang tidak konvensional. Cline bahkan sampai memanfaatkan pembunuhan yang dilakukan Charles Manson, yang merusak nilai-nilai perdamaian dan anti peperangan kaum hippie dengan tindakan kriminalnya, sebagai inspirasi aksi bagi Russell dan kelompoknya. Atau, bias jadi, Cline memang sengaja menceritakan kisah nyata ini dalam bentuk serta dengan sudut pandang yang berlainan, meskipun kisah tersebut tidak menjadi focus utama narasinya.

Namun, selain penggambaran kaum hippie yang menunjukkan bagaimana bentuk dari identitas diri mereka, Emma Cline juga memperlihatkan bagaimana tokoh Evie Boyd mengalami krisis identitas akibat kegelisahan dan kejenuhan yang dialaminya. Sebagai remaja yang masih terombang-ambing dalam pencarian jati diri, serta terkoyak akibat perceraian orangtua, Evie mencari sesuatu yang dapat melegakan hatinya, suatu tempat di mana ia dapat melepaskan beban. Kebebasan gaya hidup yang ditawarkan kaum hippie, yang bahkan untuk mendapatkan sesuatu mereka hanya tinggal “mengambilnya” saja, mengiming-imingi Evie janji akan kehidupan yang lepas dan tanpa beban: beban dari sekolah yang monoton, ibu yang menekan, persahabatan yang lekang.

Akan tetapi, jika dilihat lebih dekat, meski telah memilih bersama kaum hippie, Evie tetap tidak terlihat seperti bagian dari mereka. Ia juga tidak dapat sepenuhnya berpikir sebagaimana mereka berpikir, dan terkesan asing berada di tengah-tengah mereka. Seolah-olah Cline ingin menunjukkan bahwa mengadopsi atribut tertentu dan bergabung dalam kelompok tertentu bias jadi dapat memberikan identitas tertentu kepada diri kita, tetapi bias jadi juga tidak. Bila atribut-atribut tersebut tidak benar-benar melekat pada diri kita, maka kita belum tentu akan menjadi seperti orang-orang yang memiliki identitas tersebut. Layaknya orang yang mahir berbahasa Inggris belum tentu berasal dari Negara berbahasa Inggris, atau orang yang berkeyakinan tertentu belum pasti terlahir di Negara asal keyakinan tersebut.

Gadis-Gadis Misterius karya Emma Cline seakan hendak membuktikan bahwa identitas diri merupakan hal yang pelik. Ini bukan sekadar perkara atribut-atribut yang dimiliki atau gaya hidup yang dijalani. Bukan pula semata soal ingin tidaknya kita merengkuh ciri khas dan gaya hidup tersebut. Seperti karakter Evie yang sangat cinta kebebasan tapi tak pernah bias sepenuhnya menjadi hippie, atau karakter Russell yang justru mencemari prinsip cinta damai yang dipegang oleh kaumnya sendiri. Identitas bias dibilang sesuatu yang cair, layaknya karakter manusia yang tidak melulu hitam dan putih.

N.B.: resensi ini pernah ditayangkan sebelumnya di Jurnal Ruang.

Rating: 3/5

fiction, review

Dear Life

41117546631_28ca98d1c7Here Alice Munro provides readers with bitter insight into what a real life might become when it treads along a twisted road toward somewhere unknown, or, rather, unpredicted. Dear Life has fourteen short stories people might just expect from the Nobel laureate, but they will have to be ready for more than that. For they might encounter characters they will hate so much, or ones they will hate so much to love, and unsettling narratives they will want to scream at, but which they think possible and not gruelingly unusual.

Of all the short written accounts, the last four are said to be Munro’s fictionalized versions of her childhood memories. Despite this, the other ten are not necessarily deprived of the familiar setting I’m sure is Munro’s own surroundings through her lifetime. So however fictitious those ten stories are, there is still something personal about the writer in each of them, something that we can draw some conclusions from about what life she’s lived in some ways. There’s more to them, though, than merely personal hints on what actually formed her narratives. There is the characters, ones that are often sketches of infidel people as in To Reach Japan, Leaving Maverly, Gravel, and Carrie. But they are not such bad people, nor does Munro try to depict them so. They are people who cannot help what they do, or who just follow where the road takes them to. Sometimes it’s the road they wish to travel, sometimes it’s doubtfully not.

Speaking of taking the road in front, Train is the most gripping tale of all for its character’s indecisiveness—if it could even be called indecisiveness. Jackson, a young soldier coming back from the war, only goes with the flow, going where the wind and the railroad take him. He doesn’t plan his life, nor does he decide anything to do, he lets his path and any circumstance prevailing decide it for him. When he stops at a ranch on the way home, he never knows that being agitated by a restless cow will lead him to so many years of life there, at first doing some repair work for the ranch owner and then for her neighbors, and later living with and caring for her as her friend and family. He doesn’t intend to do so, nor does he intend to do so forever, for when there is a hint of it ending sooner rather than later, he takes a turn and nips it in the bud. Later on, he even takes a more twisted path as he almost encounters his past girlfriend, if we could call her so, for he doesn’t want to face his awkward past, or perhaps he just doesn’t want to face the fact that their relationship is more complicated than he wants it to be.

Pride is another compelling story, especially for its physically and psychologically imperfect character. “Imperfect” may be a simple, negative word, but it can always strike your pride and makes you want to cast out people around because their existence and help will only make you feel like an incapable person unfit for anything and even for being independent. It is, more or less, what Munro seems to project the main character to be, for it is what the reader gets from his nature, from the way he behaves and thinks. He lives alone with his mother, as Oneida, one of his townspeople he’s quite acquainted with, does with her father. When the man falls sick, Oneida takes care of him, whether he wants her to or not. As he gradually recovers, however, things get awkward for he doesn’t wish to get anymore of her helping hand, especially when she offers to live with him in his empty house now that his mother has passed away. He refuses it, he rejects it, for pride or anything else that prevents him from feeling pity for himself. But then he realizes that it is Oneida who deserves pity more.

Closely scrutinized, with Dear Life Alice Munro seems to want to hold a mild, subtle and yet firm rebellion against the society, religion, even against fate that has its title to mold and direct what lives people should live. The narratives she presents to readers suggest that they are somewhat stirred by characters unwilling to comply with any rules but their own, even creating no path but their own. They seem so unbounded, unrestrained like those in the last four stories (The Eye, Night, Voices, and Dear Life), where she, to some extent, describes herself as a rebellion who cannot just say yes to her mother’s orders. This notion seems affirmed when in the story Haven Munro ironically tells about a man called Uncle Jasper who cannot live without confirming to his religion’s strict rules and customs. He is so adamant that his own sister only gets his cold shoulder, even until to her grave, and his wife can only be the “yessir” robot for she fears he might treat her the same way or explode unreasonably. If this is not a criticism of common radical obedience, I don’t know what.

Alice Munro doesn’t try to be smart in her use of language or style, she appears to be modest at most: simple, humble, to the point, though she is at the same time not deterred from complicating the plots and/or obscuring the storylines, like those of Leaving Maverly, Train, and Pride. She cleverly manages to trick readers into believing in her simplicity and text readability while the context of each fictional narrative is so much more than that. Zooming them in, however, those stories are most likely not made up of events with any chronological orders, but rather of the complicatedness of the characters inhabiting their realms. It is those characters who drive the plot motors, it is them who create such complexity which leads to secret love affairs, troubled childhood, lost, suspicion that at the end the reader comes to a feeling of bitterness. Or probably they come to no end at all, for our dear life is so full of mystery.

Like it or not, Dear Life is a book that somehow, inexpicably, can make readers rather feel bad at the end, and yet it has the beauty that not many stories have. The impression it makes on the reader is then generally as complicated as its own contents.

Rating: 3.5/5