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Justin Chin stitches together a collection of stories in 98 Wounds (Manic D Press) that are visceral, unsettling, overwhelming, disturbing, poetic, beautiful, loving, and real. Be prepared to be emotionally and psychologically jarred; to be wounded and healed.
The opening story’s title, “Outsiders,” establishes the common theme of the initial text, a theme of existing in a subculture on the peripheral of mainstream society. “Outsiders” might also suggest the voyeuristic culpability of the reader as we hesitantly make our way through the journal-like entries, peering into an imagined glory hole at sexual deviance and obsession. And just when we think the book is a collection of erotica, carnal fulfillment and fetishes propelled by drugs, we are reminded that the characters are human.
In the story titled “Sugar,” Chin manages to deftly combine acts of perversion and Alzheimer’s in a complex story that speaks to the overall challenge his collective of short stories present to the reader. Even in the midst of the disturbing, what is apparent is the impossibility of ignoring the human element in the room. The author’s poetic prowess affords him the gift of bringing beauty to the abnormal and abhorrent.
The stories shift in content and tone, midway through the book, becoming less raw. Though the “journal” entries are easier to digest, they express the same underlying pining for human connection that exists in the initial stories. The shift of the book comes suddenly, causing an emotional and psychological change as abrupt as crashing from an all night high. However, it is effective in that it forces the reader to sift through ideas of morality and examine diverging means of fulfilling the desire to be loved. Although, to use the term “love” as the object of desire doesn’t seem completely accurate—it almost oversimplifies the depth of longing that Chin so vividly captures. He explores a deeper emotional quest; seeking pleasure in pain; comfort in discomfort; disconnecting from the self in search of connection to another.
“Bolster,” the final entry in the collection, could be interpreted as support for the individual stories, providing knowledge to help the reader towards making an informed judgment. It runs the risk of being too explicit in its effort to explain certain behavior and choices, a kind of cause and effect explanation. Or, the last entry might also be construed as the “author’s note,” allowing Chin to provide a backdrop and insight into how one’s choices are influenced, and the collateral consequences of certain life circumstances that are reflected throughout the book. In either case, 98 Wounds is an engaging text, and the last entry serves well as the final tug on the thread of stories, pulling them closer together and ensuring their connection.
By Justin Chin
Manic D Press
Paperback, 9781933149578, 160pp