Gentlemen Prefer Asians by Yuska Lutfi Tuanakotta

Gentleman



Gentlemen Prefer Asians

By Yuska Lutfi Tuanakotta
Published 2016 by ThreeL Media | Stone Bridge Press
$14.95 paperback ISBN 9780996485203

Reviewed by Krista Varela Posell

Yuska Lutfi Tuanakotta’s first book, Gentlemen Prefer Asians, is a collection of essays that details the marriages of three gay Indonesian men in their pursuit to become US citizens. Though the book’s subtitle is “Tales of Gay Indonesians and Green Card Marriages,” the essays amount to so much more, creating a nuanced portrait of family, love, and friendship in the 21st century.

The book begins with meditation on the impact of our memories, the way they “occupy,” “attack,” and “metastasize,” establishing one of the recurring themes throughout the book. The narrator invites us in to relive some of these “precious fragments” from his life, launching us into a narrative that is raw, vulnerable, and dynamic.

Throughout these essays we are introduced to multiple characters, many of whom are referred to by their profession: The Pilot, The Baker, The Nurse, and even the narrator’s husband is referred to as The Musician. In this way, the focus of the story is geared toward the narrator and his two Indonesian friends, Ario and Jaya. We witness the history of the narrator’s former relationships in a series of essays entitled “Gentlemen Suite.” Other minor but important characters include the narrator’s parents, who play a supportive role in supporting the narrator’s life. “Your Daddy’s Rich and Your Ma’s Good Lookin’” is an especially poignant essay that describes the narrator’s exodus from Indonesia from his mother’s perspective.

Ario and Jaya, two Indonesians married to American men, are the two other central characters and serve as a contrast to the narrator. Ario is somewhat conservative and subscribes to ideals about romantic love, yet complies with the open marriage his American husband desires and has trouble adapting to life in the US. Jaya is an outgoing, vivacious stud married to a man forty years his senior and, despite his bubbly demeanor, struggles to face his some of his own demons.

Many of the book’s most pivotal moments come through conversations between the narrator, Ario, and Jaya. These conversations highlight the insecurities and vulnerabilities of the three men within each of their relationships. Ario acts as the voice of wisdom for the trio and offers insight into the power dynamics between these men and their American husbands, spouting off lines like, “You are married, which means you are owned by a man,” and “Being equal means having power and power is sexy.”

Guiding us through these scenes is a narrator with a distinct voice that is witty and honest. He’s quirky, but intelligent. He’s well read and nerdy. He’s familiar with the Bible and Sylvia Plath, but also knows just as much about Star Trek, Lord of the Rings, and Harry Potter. He’s self-deprecating, describing himself as a “gay, feminine Klingon,” but this makes him all the more endearing. The self-awareness in the narrator’s voice gains the reader’s trust as he gives us an honest account of his previous relationships—the way he kept The Baker on the hook, the way he uses The Pilot as a rebound.

Tuanakotta plays with the essay form in multiple ways. Some of the essays experiment with the second and third person, and from multiple points of view. Other essays are lists—the “Nonimmigrant Visa Applicant Checklist” and “Permanent Resident Case Filing Checklist”—that give a more objective perspective into the process of becoming a citizen. While most of the book is rooted in scene, some essays collectively titled “The Demons of Indonesia” are devoted to exposition, bringing the reader up to speed on the current political climate and LGBT movement in Indonesia. These acknowledgements of the queer struggle on a global level help to illuminate the complicated feelings that the three main characters have toward their husbands, their marriages, and the places that they call home.

Ario asks the narrator about halfway through the book, “Would you still marry your husband if you were American?” to which the narrator doesn’t respond. This is one of the implicit central tensions of the book—the balance between trying to find true love and becoming an American citizen. Though the narrator’s marriage to The Musician is hardly played out on the page, it isn’t really the point. These stories don’t portray the typical fairy tale romance of finding true love and living happily ever after. Ario divorces his husband and returns to Indonesia, and Jaya resigns himself for the time being to a loveless marriage to ensure his future financial stability. The narrator himself ends on a note of ambivalence, acknowledging apprehension of the (at the time of publication) upcoming US presidential election. His final thoughts are a sobering reminder that we still have a lot of work to do to protect the voices of those like the narrator, Ario, and Jaya. Their stories must be heard and spread widely to continue the conversation.

 

 

 

Homesick for Another World: Stories by Ottessa Moshfegh

Homesick for Another World


Homesick For Another World
by Ottessa Moshfegh
Published 2017 by Penguin Press
$26.00 hardcover ISBN 978-0399562884

Reviewed by: Noah Sanders

Ottessa Moshfegh’s is a joyfully disgusting writer. Her worlds are populated by an unappealing lot of losers, perverts, drunks and drug addicts, struggling to find purchase in whatever gutter they may have woke up in. Moshfegh seems to thrill in detailed descriptions of cystic acne, bloated bodies, horrifically mangled and misshapen limbs, and a slew of other physical deformities that afflict her characters. As monstrous as the characters in her first short story collection – Homesick for Another World – are on the outside, they are imbued with the potential for worse within. And it is a testament to her immense abilities as a writer that in the collection she is able to make these ugly creations not only relatable, but strangely likable. She is, quite frankly, a master of revulsion. Her characters breath, bleed, screw, and ooze from the page, sloughing through their sad existences, weakly reaching for someone, or something, to lift them up to places even marginally better.

In Homesick for Another World Moshfegh’s keen eye and descriptive power are turned towards a motley cast of down-on-their-luck characters – a Chinese factory worker who seeks love, a woman who seeks vacation in destitution, a wall-eyed country kid trying to become a Hollywood star – their only connecting thread the want, in even the smallest way, to find solace, or escape, from their uniformly miserable existences. Moshfegh’s is a hopeless world, the stories set in barren, hard-luck locales that on occasion read almost post-apocalyptically, consolation to be found only in the skewed connections between human beings. The tales told in Homesick for Another World place universal life moments we all share – first dates, break-ups, moving to a new place – underneath Moshfegh’s powerful microscope, pushing past the superficial to expose the warts, pustules, and enlarged genitalia laying just beneath the surface.

A sense of escapism trickles through each of the 14 stories in the book, a morbid romanticism that drives and consumes these characters, pushing them towards reprehensible acts in the hope that it will free them from the lives they inhabit. The titular character in “Mr. Wu”, is a lovesick, bitter drunk who writes intimidating texts to a local arcade owner, hoping it will draw her to him, only to ignore her when the chance arises. “Nothing Ever Happens Here” features a wall-eyed teen who departs his small-town life, convinced he’s the next big Hollywood star, his self-delusions bolstered by the awkward romantic advances of a fading gossip columnist. Moshfegh is at her best when she writes of dreamers, no matter how abhorrent, failing to touch the stars, but discovering the small joys of their own lives in the process.

Most of the stories here are written in the first person, allowing Moshfegh to showcase the world of her narrators through their cracked and skewed perspectives. It is here that her often stomach-turning descriptions are most powerful, as the moles and receding hairlines and picked-scabs her characters are infested with seem to trap the reader within these lives. Forcing us to find the hints of light in the very darkest depths that allow her characters, sad as they might be, to move forward.

In short story form though, Moshfegh occasionally abandons narrative pay-off, bowing down to her own seeming delight in the strange and disgusting. In Eileen, her acclaimed debut novel, she had page space to build character and plot amidst the internal and external filth, allowing the ending to organically blossom. Though the weaker stories in Homesick for Another World – “A Dark and Winding Road” or “Dancing In The Moonlight” – still sing with her visceral characters and descriptions, the shorter form forces Moshfegh to make relatively large leaps that often times strand her characters, and the reader, without adequate closure. But Moshfegh’s writing is so immersive, so hideously enjoyable, that even when she can’t stick the landing, the routine leading towards it always merits attention.

To say that Moshfegh’s stories are hopeful, inspirational even, seems a strange descriptor. She revels in pouring on the disgustingness, but in her capable hands, it only makes the characters more real, more relatable. All of us want to meet someone, all of us have dreamed of fame, just like all of us have a truly ugly, even creepy side to our thoughts, to our physicality. Yet, she even as she afflicts her characters with arms that look like “prawn claws” or a tendency to “vomit in public, just to make a scene” or a general nihilistic approach to the world as it is, she drags them from the gutter, even for just a moment, allowing them a chance to stand up just a little taller, even if they’ll surely stumble back down.