Friday, August 15, 2014

Review: Look Who’s Morphing, by Tom Cho

There is an unspoken observation in the literary circles I run in that that when a relatively unknown writer puts his own photo on the cover of his book, we’ve officially entered amateur hour. I’m happy to report that Tom Cho’s short story collection, Look Who’s Morphing, bucks this fairly reliable prejudice. Yes, his book does sport a rather pouty picture of the author with grandiose bouffant, leather jacket and a slash upon his cheek dripping a freaky neon purple blood. But these stories don’t, for the most part, fall prey to the pitfalls most associated with self-published works by authors with an overinflated sense of themselves. Indeed, Look Who’s Morphing found some acclaim in Cho’s native Australia and has been recently released here in Canada by Arsenal Pulp Press.

Pop culture provides the cornerstone to Cho’s subject matter and sensibility. Many, of the stories in this collection take their premise from a well-known Hollywood movie or TV show and twists it into something bizarre and slightly startling. The opening tale, “Dirty Dancing”, recasts the classic film as a kind of surrealist gay love story when Patrick Swayze’s dance partner becomes a man, not a woman. “The Exorcist” involves the narrator’s Chinese aunt who buys a haunted apron that has fake plastic breasts on the front and becomes possessed by a demon as a result. “I, Robot”, set in the year 2136, is a gleeful romp of destruction when our narrator is transformed into a mechanical being as part of an Australian make-work program.

I have to admit that a lot of Cho’s pieces felt a bit too easy in their attempt to be weird for the sake of being weird. I often thought that the concepts for these stories, in their attempts to be “transgressive” (a term that grows more tedious with every year that passes) didn’t really challenge the writer, and therefore didn’t challenge me as a reader. Still, one cannot deny that Cho has some serious writing chops: his stories have a way of being funny, sensitive, rebellious and revolting all at once, and he shows great control over his form.

The final story, “Cock Rock,” borrows heavily from various pop culture incarnations of Godzilla, and is, in Cho’s hands, almost entirely unadulterated id. The story is about a gigantic rock star (standing 50 metres tall) who ends up getting tied down like Gulliver and pleasured by a group of women. The story has little emotional resonance, but one can’t help but be impressed by Cho’s zestful and insouciant approach to prose.            

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