By Melissa Chang
Title: Ten Things My Father Never Taught Me and Other Stories
Author: Cyril Wong
Publisher: Epigram Books
No. of pages: 180
Available at shop.epigrambooks.sg, Kinokuniya and Select Books.
In the light of 2014 controversy where the National Library Board pulped three children’s books that contained same-sex family themes, Singapore Literature Prize-winning author Cyril Wong has since revealed plans to retire from writing in 2015.
Bearing that in mind, Wong’s most recent work – and possibly his last – is a sensitive, introspective read, occasionally upsetting, but also enjoyable and surprisingly riveting.
Known as a homosexual poet, Wong creates characters in his short stories, such as in A Short History, who struggles in gay relationships. However, he is also a versatile writer who displays such a deft, tender touch with all sorts of relatable human characters with their various neuroses, failings and flaws.
In the short story, Steamboat, for instance, a woman confronts an old friend who is exploring a polygamist relationship. Wong’s sharp critique and sharper rebuttal of monogamy are at once stinging but sympathetic.
Another story, Cinema, is sweet and hopeful in its portrayal of an unlikely, one-off date between a rich tai-tai and a middle-aged man who tears the ticket-stubs at a cinema.
In a tasteful descriptive chapter in which Wong lists out the 10 things that his own father never taught him, Wong confesses his personal experiences in growing up and coming to terms with his sexuality. The entire passage is heart stirring in its realism, but also optimistic in its approach to the future.
While Wong doesn’t use overly bombastic language, his language fluency coupled with life experiences makes him a highly readable author. What elevates him is his ability to broaden the mind and encourage understanding of those who are different or struggle to belong, while making attempts to acknowledge those who do not.
Literature fans should grab a copy of this book and pin it proudly on their support pole, perhaps to remind the prolific writer of the imminent loss in the local literature scene should he hoist the white flag.