Author's Review: Ray Malcolm
Occasionally I stumble across a writer who possesses some of that classical brilliance, mixed with a dry sense of humour, and a shrewd observation of the people he/she meets on the road of life. Usually that person is on the New York Times Best Seller list, or a list of all-time great writers.
Morgan McFinn is one of those writers. He is not, however, on the New York Times Best Seller list. It seems an injustice really, because I found his stories to be a damn good read. But in a world of so many people, it seems inevitable that there will be some hidden gems left undiscovered.
I first came across Morgan McFinn's writing after he posted a comment on my blog. After reading a few excerpts from his stories I contacted him and offered to do a review of his work. He promptly emailed me back, thanked me for the offer, and sent me a link to his profile on Authors Den, where I read more of his entertaining observations on life.
In a world of shameless self-promoters (myself included), it was refreshing to hear the words of someone who just has an awesome gift for writing prose. His wit is obvious from the first line, and I particularly like the opening to Who's Got Time for Fun? where he compares his laid-back lifestyle to that of his old friend's life back in the United States:
"I live on this beautiful island in the Gulf of Siam, with a population of twenty thousand people and fifty million coconuts. Frank lives on Manhattan, where there are several million people, many of whom behave as if they'd been crossbred with coconuts and fallen out of a tree."
His writings reminded me of the semi-autobiographical writings of Pedro Juan Gutierrez in his Dirty Havana Trilogy, except Morgan's writings are less gritty and more humorous. His influences, he claims, are "Oscar Wilde, P.G. Wodehouse and the early New Yorker writers like E.B. White, Robert Benchley, Dorothy Parker, James Thurber and Ring Lardner." Most of whom I've never heard of. But after reading some of his works, I really wish I had.
Book Review: At The Bamboo Bar
by Lang Reid
Another book from Morgan McFinn, whose previous titles include Out of the Loop and All Over the Map, and this new one At the Bamboo Bar (ISDN 974-8303-68-1) which was published last year and released by Asia Books.
McFinn is known for his pithy descriptive style. Take for example, those unfortunate people who bring on their own maladies to invoke sympathy. McFinn describes them as follows, Make public spectacles of themselves wallowing in their own miserable, stinking puddles of emotional puke, self-pity and spiritual nausea. What a joy they are to be around.What a joy indeed!
The book revolves around an evening spent at the Bamboo Bar of the Oriental Hotel, and is a series of vignettes that are brought forward by the events of the night at the bar, and incidentally, McFinn’s 50th birthday. Before getting to the bar he starts with his description of Soi Nana in Bangkok, and being conversant with the area, I could recognize the cobbler cum key cutter on the corner of Sukhumvit and the open air luggage shop. The Bamboo Bar area I am not so conversant with, the Oriental being just a tad too upmarket for the Lang Reid pocketbook.
McFinn slips very easily from episodes regarding the present, to those cajoled and dredged up from deep recesses of his memory, with the night in jail after his car was out of its emission testing time-frame being particularly amusing (and a wonderful view upon current western society and its priorities and watchdogs), however, most of the action revolves around the Bamboo Bar.
The review copy was supplied by Bookazine, with the somewhat peculiar RRP of 389 baht, and should be available at all major bookstores. For a writer of humour, McFinn is actually eloquent, and uses several words of several syllables. That, in itself, elevates this book above the general run of locally published books on Life in Patpong/Nana/Pattaya/Cowboy (delete one or all of the above), written to appeal to the lowest possible denominator, where phrases such as juxtaposition of cultural anomalies would be considered effete, or more likely, too difficult to spell and incomprehensible.
It is a book that very ably looks at life and its characters. McFinn is not guilty of dreaming up ‘larger than life’ characters for his book, for me, they were all very plausible, even if they included a one legged author, an Irish Catholic priest, an American couple from the Ozarks and a trio of Thai politicians. McFinn’s skill comes in his abilities in describing their ‘real life’ foibles in a most amusing way. He was also very masterful in the way he brings most of them together for the finale.
I found this a most enjoyable book, very witty and well worth the B. 389 RRP. In fact, I would not have complained if it had cost the other 6 baht I expected to pay. If you enjoy slick characterizations and a good laugh, buy this book. If you were enthralled with Hello my big honey do not get this book, many of the words will be too difficult for you.
Bookazine Book Review: All over the map
by Lang Reid
This is the latest book from Morgan McFinn published by Asia Books in Thailand this year. His previous book, Out of the Loop was reviewed earlier by the Pattaya Mail.
McFinn writes in a conversational and anecdotal style. Much of the book relates to encounters at bars, and you can imagine the raconteur sitting with you at some seedy bar somewhere in S.E. Asia, relating previous experiences. He seems so familiar, I wonder if I haven’t sat with him, knocking back several bottles of the local hops water.
He has a droll sense of humour. Describing a lunatic in the traffic in Cambodia, The guy is half way to being an idiot savant. The first half.Or the ambience in Cambodia’s capital, Francis Bacon, the painter, said that, as an artist, he thrived on chaos. He preferred that his studio be in a state of utter disarray because it inspired images that a neat, clean, and orderly environment would not. Francis Bacon would have loved Phnom Penh.
The book covers McFinn’s travels throughout not only Asia, but also Greece and Morocco. Reflecting on an incident where a tourist was offered 100 camels for his wife (Wendy), and the lady in question was not amused, McFinn writes, Women can be so sensitive. And, I know it is puerile to mention this, but Wendy is not very pretty. Then again, neither are camels. Although you never know. Out of a hundred camels there might be one or two lookers.
Much of the book deals with his interaction with women, all of whom seem to have problems understanding him, and vice versa. This prompts him to write a postscript to one chapter, Sometimes I think Thailand is on to something with its prevalence of lady-boys. The world needs a third gender. God knows, simple men and women haven’t figured each other yet.
Despite being a series of short stories and vignettes, the principal theme is a family in Phnom Penh whom McFinn attempts to rehabilitate. The ensuing reports as he returns from Greece, Bangkok or India are a very true revelation of what misplaced charity can do. Change the ingrained ways of the worthless, or feed the greed of those who have not tried to escape through honest labour. Or is there opportunity for those caught in the poverty trap of Phnom Penh? The answers to these questions are not within the covers of McFinn’s book, but there is food for thought.
Available at all Bookazine outlets for B. 425, the review copy came from the new Bookazine on the 1st floor of the Royal Garden Plaza. Despite the brevity of the vignettes, Morgan McFinn actually does ponder upon life and its meaning. Most of the time, for McFinn, there is no meaning, but a fair few of us knew that already, or am I as cynical as the author! Being a collection of yarns this book is easy to pick up and put down, not too taxing on the brain, but good exercise for the humour centre. I enjoyed it.
I was psyched to do my research on what I was going to do with the upcoming two weeks and change I have here, but the net was down all over town, so I was thwarted in that. That left me with very little to do but kill time and realize I was on my own again. I'm reading a great book, which helped to pass the time a bit. It's called Out of the Loop by Morgan McFinn, a guy who scrapped it all to move to Thailand. He's me plus facial hair and hedonism, so it'll give you a good idea of my state of mind when I was back on the 4000 Islands (minus the facial hair and hedonism); I totally recommend it if you can score a copy.
At the moment I am reading a book called All over the Map by Morgan McFinn.
It is a somewhat humorous take on a middle aged mans travels in S.E.Asia and some areas in Europe. The humour is generally dry, sarcastic, and witty but also has some really touching moments. Not a 'heavy' read, but really enjoyable.
One quote I found poignant (while he is in Phnom Penh):
| It never fails to amaze me how the laughter of those miserably worse off than myself always seems to arouse a certain peculiar sense of envy. What is it that they know that I don’t know? What are the insights onto the nature of Man that are solely available to those who, by no fault of their own, must endure incarnate misery and deprivation? And how is it that these insights seed such barren soil to raise a crop of laughter?
I picked up a book to read in the hostel the other day, and it has probably one of the best descriptions of an Asian market ever laid down on paper:
Like many people on the island, Joe’s does not yet possess a refrigerator. Perishable foods are stored in buckets or boxes of ice. When the ice melts, the food perishes - and in hot tropical climates ice melts pretty damn fast. Consequently, we all go to the market nearly every day to buy fresh, perishable food that hasn’t perished yet.
The market generally opens around five in the morning, and by seven most of the ice has melted. The food, however, is a good deal fresher to start with than you ‘ll likely find in a modern air-conditioned supermarket. The plucked chickens are hanging from hooks, and their throats were cut only an hour or two before going on sale. In some markets, they’ll cut the chicken’s throat while you wait.
That’s fresh chicken.
Being so-called ‘free-range’ fowl that Western health food fanatics are so fond of, but seldom ever eat, means that these little darlings might well have been rummaging through your garbage pit only yesterday. In other words, you may have been eating bits and pieces of the same meal for a long time. Sort of like what the Spanish have been doing with sherry for hundreds of years.
The vast majority of seafood is also fresh. Swimming around minding their own business a few hours earlier, suddenly the fish are all screaming, ‘The sea is rising! The sea is rising!’ Of course, the sea wasn’t rising for the fish anymore than the sky was falling for that silly chicken. What was rising was a fisherman’s net, and then, lo and behold, the fish are on the deck of a longtail boat flopping about like fish out of water. Some of them are packed on ice, and others are put in pails of water. You can buy them dead or alive.
So far, you may be thinking these open-air markets should be closer to home. Maybe you’d like one in your neighborhood. Well that’s because you ain’t seen the flies. They’re all over the fresh dead flesh. You ain’t seen the rats scurrying along the open drainage system. You ain’t seen the scurvy dog gnawing on a buffalo bone, and you for sure ain’t seen the blood and guts of various animal kingdom creatures splattered all over every which-a-way.
The best advice when shopping at one of these markets is to get there early, get your grub, and get out. Go home, wash all the fresh meat with clean water and a little vinegar, pack it in ice, knock back a shot of whiskey, and pray you’re hungry before the ice melts.
Morgan McFinn - Out of the Loop: Scenes from Samui and Other Seascapes
Re: At the Bamboo Bar
The man creates a superb flow of incidents…We glide into one of the cozy chairs into the bar and watch, listen and laugh as the evening progresses and the novel itself as well as the conversations McFinn either overhears or participates in develops into something very elegant and stylish…The verbose style proves to be more than fitting as we settle in with characters that are as flippant and peculiar as they are memorable. We deeply regret that the night draws to a close, as it naturally must. There is the urge that we need to stay with McFinn and his troupe much, much longer.
Patrick Tippelt Metro Magazine
At the Bamboo Bar is a breezy book; well written and entertaining.
Look East Magazine
The author of Out of the Loop and All Over the Map, both of which were warmly received by the local press, visits the Kingdom’s famed Bamboo Bar, but this is one evening unlike any the Bamboo bar had ever experienced before…Play readings, love-making, a dead guy in a brown suit, lots of top shelf booze and jazz, and a cast of inimically amusing characters as always. Subtitled ‘A Birthday Bash at the Most Celebrated Bar in Bangkok,’ this is one party worth dropping in on.