From Doubt to Bitterness

Amir HafiziWednesday, April 15, 2015
Bissme S’ new anthology of stories is haunting and heartbreaking (Pic by Hussein Shaharuddin)

Title: Bitter
Author: Bissme S
Publisher: Merpati Jingga

After his first book “Doubt”, author Bissme S returns with another clutch of stories — this time, Bissme focuses on even darker themes that plunge readers into a bottomless pit of despair.

This book is a downer, in a good way. Reminiscent of Oscar Wilde’s dour, heartbreaking and haunting short stories, Bissme’s “Bitter” manages to consistently capture that dark, depressing landscape in 13 stories.

There are stories of mothers becoming prostitutes and one hired to see out the death of her husband, tale of a family forever affected by the suicide of a father, how a boy is raped and the family copes, a mother tasting the flesh of her own children and many more.

Of note are the stories “Breakfast in Bed” and “All About My Mother”.

“Breakfast in Bed” is about a family obsessed with the image of the father hanging himself in his bedroom after his wife left him. “All About My Mother” is a story about a serial curse of prostitution borne out of bitterness. In it, a man would curse random beautiful mothers to a life of prostitution. The children of the mother who becomes a prostitute would one day recite the same line — almost an incantation — to another mother and the cycle begins anew.

These stories are almost fable-like in nature, their darkness a result of semi-magical happenings or the borderline fantastic.

However, the horrors are very much grounded in reality and the violence is believable while being a bit surreal. The motivations of some of the characters that instigate the weird and cruel happenings are almost like a dark version of paying it forward, or vectors spreading a virus of bitterness.

Another running theme is that the stories are often written from the point of view of the son, witnessing the real horrors of family. In some stories, the focus shifts to other types of characters, which makes for a varied reading.

The effect is that the book creates a haunting experience and readers can find themselves strangely cathartic after going through all the spite, hatred, abuse and violence in “Bitter”. It is certainly over the top and can get a bit cartoonish at times, such as one story where a mother is fed the flesh of her child, or when a man discovers he is a product of incest.

However, when the story is over, one can find a bit of relief that the world is not that dark and hopefully it is only so in the minds of the author.

Bissme writes his short stories well, perhaps fully realising that tales with such strong flavours should be short and not be drawn out too much. He effortlessly darts from one dark and depressing setup to another, from one crazy character to the next one with seeming ease.

“Bitter” is only around 130 pages so even if the content is not agree-able to those with more delicate sensibilities, it is short.

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