Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Review of Seoul in Slices by Steve Kostecke

Can be purchased in the zeen store
at for $3.

Steve Kostestke lives in Japan. He is also the author of Auslanders Raus and Azian Kix. And he is the editor-and-chief of the ULA website and the ULA’s communal zeen Slush Pile.

Seoul in Slices supplies a first person view into what it means to be an American in Seoul. Seoul in Slices doesn’t give any grand tales of being imprisioned in third world jails, feeding the starving, or trying to find his grandmother who died there fifty years ago. It’s a zeen about guy who has some good, bad, and weird times in Seoul and thought the world might be interested in what he did and what happened to him there.

There are four sections in the zeen, I’ll go through them one by one.

In the first section called, “Seoul in Slices,” Kostecke gives small sketches of Seoul life. He shows the little things about Seoul that if you were just a tourist you would miss like describing what a Ppikki is, “A runaway whose job it is to stand around the happening night spots and get you to come to a certain bar or dance club (where he’ll get a commission).” Or, “Motorbikes on the sidewalk. Revving and threading through the crowds. Getting on People’s asses. The way that Koreans get out of the way. The way that they accept it. One time a motorbike gets on my ass. I’m with two friends. I say to them: “One of these days I’m gonna hook one of these guys.” The motorbike guy miraculously speaks English. Gets up along side me and says: “You don’t like it, get out of Korea!”

Which I think shows to the reader that Kostecke isn’t just some lame rich kid backpacker, but a real resident of Seoul. He has learned the city as a person living in it, not as a tourist passing through.

Kostecke also gives anecdotes of his times with other foreign teachers living there which are really funny, “British guy I know is gay. Speaks Korean. Knows Seoul in and out. Gets sex whenever and wherever he wants it. Gay culture plus a sexually-curious-about-foreigners culture. When he gets drunk he gets obnoxious. As we weave through the crowds he blurts out in English to passing boys: “Would mind terribly if I sucked your dick?” Does this for an entire stretch of road.”

The next section is called, “A Sketch of my Last Days in Seoul.” In the section he tells stories about a woman named Lexa he went out with one night and who got completely drunk and got into fights, hit on twenty guys, and screamed “Queen Mother” at everybody. Then he told a story about how the places he was teaching at were trying to fuck him out of pay. Then he goes to a club with a friend named Jeff. Then Kostecke did something really cool, here’s the quote, “Jeff heading over to a neighboring lounge which he had to two weeks before and now – heroically – to “save” one of he girls from her life of degradation.” Note that he put quotations around “save”, that showed to me that Kostecke tried to emphasize the absurdity of that without making it a big deal, no rant was needed. Because with Kostecke either you are going to understand what he meant by that, and if you don’t a rant won’t make you understand it either. Either you been there, know, and understand. Or you’re out of touch and aren’t going to get it no matter what he says. I thought that was really cool.

The third section Kostecke titled “Hyperfiction” which he described as, “A prose style in competition with tvs, vcrs, cable, the internet, computer games, surround sound cinemas, top-forty radio stations, and a whole lot more.”

The “Hyperfiction” section is a collection of tiny stories written in very terse short sentences. He achieved this by not adding any fluffy dumb shit to the lines. The story “One Tiny Sec” was used for The Underground versus Professionals experiment, and was enjoyed by everyone that read it.

In the story, “Tits” he talks about having an anorexic girlfriend he doesn’t actually like but stays with anyway and says this great line anyone can relate to, “The summer ended as did everything else. Barbie kept accusing me of things that were true and I kept denying them.”

The final section of Seoul in Slices has a review of Douglas Coupland’s Girlfriend in a Coma where he calls Coupland’s book “Primetime TV” and deconstructs the book to show that it is unworthy of the praise it has received by the media. Kostecke says about Coupland’s prose at one point, “It floats up into the air and becomes puffy little clouds that never rain.”

Kostecke Seoul in Slices is a great read if you enjoy travel literature that is more about a person living in a certain part of the world that grew up in a completely different culture and circumstances. And not just some person visiting a certain place and having wild obviously exaggerated adventures while there.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Review of Chasing Pace by C.B. Forest

ISBN: 1894494-86-5
Baico Publishing
$22.95 C$, 17.95 $US
315 pages

Unlike most books I read, I was a bit privy to this book’s journey to publication. First time Ottawan author, C. B. Forrest, spent a few years shipping the thing around and, at one point, finding an interested publisher who couldn’t decide whether it should be written in 1st or 3rd person had the author re-write it into 3rd before deciding it was better in 1st and then going out of business. After another series of submissions the book was picked up by a small press just across the border in Quebec and published, after conversion again, in 3rd person. If anything, this highlights how editors, for the most part, should focus on publishing, rather than nit-picking the instincts of the author.

Anyway, knowing all this and receiving a complimentary copy of the book via a friend in Ottawa, I set into the novel. Here is the review:

Chasing Pace is, superficially, about a small town Canadian journalist in his forties, Ben Canon, who has never really amounted to anything. Recently divorced, even more recently unemployed and an alcoholic/self-medicator who boards with an 80 year old ‘captain’ Ben suddenly decides the best way to spend his severance cheque and solve all his and the world’s problems is to drive down to Miami to find the star of a short-lived children’s television show from his youth: Commander Pace. Along the way he runs into a blind barber, a corrupt cop, a cop who’d rather be a Buddhist and a one-legged stripper who all, in some way, help him come to grips with his own demons.

Overall, Chasing Pace is a good read, mostly for the reason that the plot keeps rolling and never really goes where you expect it to go. The characters, as well, all stray far enough from stereotypes to keep them interesting, as well. Chasing Pace is by no means a ‘book you can’t put down’ but is definitely a book you keep wanting to come back to.

The book, however, seems a lot like a Frank Kapra-corn film but with strippers and alcoholics. This is mostly good, however, the scenarios and characters often wade a bit too close to cliché/corn – strippers with hearts of gold, small town corrupt cops, citizens uniting to thwart the mean-spirited schemes of the town’s own Mr. Potter-type and open a drug clinic… Yet, no character is without his quirks/problems and stay far enough away to avoid being too cliché. In some ways, these are like Kapracorn characters updated for the new millennium and for this reason remain interesting.

The end of the novel is satisfying, however, despite avoiding the clichéd happy ending, wraps up a little too cleanly and not exactly believably. Ben Canon comes to terms with his own personal problems finally; however it’s not clear why this happens, exactly. It’s accepted, but the connections and the catalyst to the events in the story aren’t quite solid enough. I’m certainly not against polemics or saying something in a story and give points to this book for its efforts, however, the points it does make come dangerously close to being preachy (on somewhat tired topics – manhood, war, death, life) near the end. [Another weird thing about the novel is that virtually every character seems to have been involved in a major war (Korea, WWII, Vietnam, Yugoslavia…), yet totally independent of the plot. Ben Canon’s obsessive attachment to his long dead grandfather is also a bit difficult to understand.]

Overall, however, Chasing Pace is an enjoyable novel, better than most you’ll find on the corporate bookshelves. It isn’t snobby and it takes the risk of saying something. The writing and plotting are incredibly, incredibly tight and the storyline intriguing. If you’re looking for something with a solid plot, interesting characters, unpretentious, tight writing while providing something other than the tired same-old then Chasing Pace should satisfy.

Review by Leopold McGinnis