The team over at HALiterature has once again provided us bibliophiles with a collection of short stories written by domestic and international authors alike. Only a year removed from their first publication, “Party Like it’s 1984,” HAL wrapped up 2011 by unleashing the sinful “Middle Kingdom Underground” upon us. Without pulling any punches, the stories take us through the underbelly of life in China, which most read more like confessions from a journal than fiction.
Though the majority of the stories take place in our beloved city, the authors take us all over China, as we delve into the world of sex, drugs, prostitution, and other vices or excesses. Taking relatively mundane events that most of us have likely experienced at some point, like a late night in a dingy bar, and spinning them out of control into surreal tales of self-indulgence and lechery, you will likely be left feeling a bit unclean after each story; think back to the first time you saw Trainspotting, Spun, or Requiem for a Dream.
Story after story goes behind the shiny veneer of expat life, and down the rabbit hole into a lifestyle that our mothers and fathers would certainly not condone. Not for the faint of heart, the 16 stories range from the construction of a mushroom growing operation (JP Flynn’s ‘The Mushroom Factory’), to the perils of baijiu concoctions (Matthew Durie’s ‘Baijiu Demon’), to the supposed glamour of going on corporate tours around China (Anna Missing’s ‘Miss Budweiser’), and beyond.
While some content may alienate even the most progressive reader, a resident of any Chinese city is able to find some relatable and familiar material, which adds a personal touch to the collection. References to bars, clubs, roads, or even experiences that we have all had whilst living in China, allows the reader to connect to the heroes, or anti-heroes as it were, and embrace the fiction.
You may find yourself scoffing, laughing, shaking your head, or even turning up your nose to some of the tales, but the authors set out to produce an underground anthology of booze, drugs, and sex, and I’d be hard pressed to say they haven’t achieved their goal. In fact, I’d be hard pressed to find someone among us who hasn’t shared a feeling or two with some of the characters in these pages.
So, if it sounds like your cup of tea, be sure to pick up a copy of “Middle Kingdom Underground”, and tickle your excess bone. Hey, you might just learn a thing or two. Like how to construct a mushroom factory. You know, if you need a little extra cash.
WORDS: ANDREW BYRNE