‘Pen in Parentheses’ by Prabda Yoon, translated by Mui Poopoksakul

In anglophone countries, the short story has sometimes been regarded as a training form; it rewards experimentation, allowing writers to play with voices or structures that would not hold up if stretched out to novel-length. The downside is that many short stories end up being just that: pure experimentation. Prabda Yoon’s stories are endlessly inventive—he is often described as the postmodern master of Thai literature—but, in my view, his stories never sacrifice a compelling narrative for the sake of a stylistic trick.

Take ‘Pen in Parentheses’. The story is in, essence, a single sentence: “The sheet of paper fell (…) so I bent down and picked it up.” But the real story (the story of the narrator’s growth, of his eccentric grandfather, his relationship with his aging grandmother, of the way life changes us, regardless of whether we want it to or not) unfolds between those parentheses, so that the narrator’s life becomes one long aside suspended in a single action. In Yoon’s hands, experimentation is a way to enhance, not replace, a good story.

Collected in The Sad Part Was, Tilted Axis, 2017. Read it online here