Tom Cho, 125 pgs, Arsenal Pulp Press, arsenalpulp.com. $16.95
“[T]here is something in the way that discussions about popular culture can bring people together.” So starts Look Who’s Morphing, a surreal short story collection by Chinese-Australian author Tom Cho. In his debut work, Cho ruminates on themes of traversing boundaries, fantasy versus reality, language and meaning, cultural nostalgia, and the future of cyborgs by following a shape-shifting narrator through a series of delightfully bizarre adventures.
Change is the sole constant theme throughout Look Who’s Morphing. Cho’s perpetually transforming narrator never stays firmly rooted in one location, body, or time period for too long. He becomes a plush cast member on the set of Jim Henson’s Muppet Show, Whitney Houston’s bodyguard, leather-clad bass player Suzie Quatro, Captain Von Trapp’s secret paramour, the Incredible Hulk, and a Godzilla-sized cock rock guitar god playing for adoring fan girls in Tokyo. Just when you think you’ve caught on, Cho brings his extended family into the mix: an uncle’s hard drive crashes, an aunt is demonically possessed by a plastic breast-adorned novelty apron, and another uncle turns into Tony Danza.
If you’re rereading that last paragraph and scratching your head, rest assured: that’s the intent. Here is an author who knows how to toy with his readers; one moment you’re in stitches, the next, absolutely confused and wondering… wait, what just happened? The mini plots are loose, intentionally unravelling at every opportunity, but Cho’s quick-witted, laugh-out-loud deadpan quips and quick redirections keep us focused and on track. While at times Cho verges on dreamlike stream of consciousness, at other moments the tone shifts to semi-autobiographical reflection. Is this truth or fiction? Is this a novel, a memoir, or an academic experiment with language? It’s often hard to tell, and perhaps that’s the point. Look Who’s Morphing is undoubtedly a gem. (Melissa Hergott)