November 07, 2011

Book Review : Salmonella Men on Planet Porno By Yasutaka Tsutsui

What happens when Murakami meets Salvador Dali in a cafe with Kafka?

I stumbled on this collection of stories by Yatusaka Tsutsui and picked it up with an earnest interest after i sampled through a few pages in the bookstore. The book contains 13 short stories, each of which exemplifies certain mundane-ness to absurd proportions without trying to be politically correct and polite at certain instances; it also makes you laugh sometimes, if not always. During the course of reading this book, my expectation increased with every page, as Tsutsui builds up on the tempo and underscores the idiocy in the everyday life and the traits of certain people(if not all) in the society. The cultural awkwardness at some places may rejig you, but you are all the more engrossed in the story and are waiting to know the end. The climax though might seem uneventful, is what sets the style different from others. Without being too abstract, and constructing a parallel universe to juxtapose the events from Planet earth onto an equivalent set of highly extrapolated stupidity, the author takes the reader to a completely different realm.

Each of the stories is a thoroughly imagined classic in which the protagonist leads the life in another fictional world.  Be it "The Dabba Dabba Tree", in which the society's bent for eroticism is suitably characterized by the introduction of a tree in the bedroom which makes you dream, and makes the dreams and reality coexist or in the "Rumours about Me" in which he(protagonist) is constantly disdainful of all the attention that he 'might' be getting or "Dont Laugh" in which the construction of time machine is in the center of all the giggling and laughing, Tsutsui does construct a different kingdom of thoughts. The 'tourist' syndrome is aptly presented in "Farmer Airlines" and "Bear's Wood Main Line". The humour becomes pretty dark in "The Very Edge of Happiness"; and rigmarole of the everyday office life is again magnified with the help of a fictional war life situation. In the story "The World is Tilting", the author again portrays a region of land which keeps tilting and simultaneously showcases the dynamics of the people in the region. "The Last Smoker" is the story about a person who does not want to give up smoking in a land which has banned smoking, and how he has to hide and run and finally becomes 'the last smoker' and hence becomes an 'endangered specie'. "Bad for the heart" is about a person who needs pills for his life to proceed onto the next day, and how he has to face the brunt of his wife and the incompetency of the courier service which has to deliver the packet to him.

"Salmonella Men on Planet Porno" is the highlight of this book, and is the biggest story. Tsutsui is one of the masters of imagination and he constructs a parallel universe in this story, wherein things are again extremely erotic with their associated 'obscenity' according to Dr.Mogamigawa(one of the characters of this story). But towards the end it does get transformed to a planet of love, where things happen for a reason. The author gets full points in the way he introduces animals and insects on the Planet Porno - fondleweed, flatback hippos, eleventh-hour crocodiles, gugling alligators,matchbox jellyfish, forget-me-grass, itchy scratchy tree. Animals like panting hart, false-eared rabbit, grindhog, gaping hooter, collapsible cow or birds like the penisparrow or insects like the screeching cicada are there for a reason. Also, the way relic pods are introduced lends a new dimension to this paradise of love and care. Newdopia - wherein, the humanoid natives look completely like humans, but wander around nude, does introduce the weirdness in the psyche to a different level altogether; but the author does it on purpose.

The characters remain in the stories and do not attempt to break out; and i am sure,even if they try to do, they cannot, as Tsutsui has sufficiently handcuffed them in their own realities. There is a sense of claustrophobia in all his characters. All the weirdness in his tales, though at the time of reading does feel very funny, but the associated epiphany is worth notable. Would calling Tsutsui the "Master of Surrealism" in the literary world be a hyperbole? I am not sure as i have to sample a lot many more.
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