by Benedikt von Laufenberg
In this blog post, I want to discuss Grace Chan’s short story “Of Hunger and Fury“ (2020) by focussing on three different aspects. First, it should be illustrated how the village in which the mysterious incidents occur is set apart from the rest of the world. Second, I want to show how verisimilitude is created by mentioning various details and how this verisimilitude increases the mysteriousness of other elements in the story. Third, I want to investigate the relation between dreams and waking life and how this relation highlights the increasing tension of the story.
The story begins with a young couple visiting the wife’s family in Malaysia: “It’s late in the day when we drive east from Kuala Lumpur in our rented Proton. (…) I turn to the passengers window. The shopping malls and housing estates are far behind us now (p.78).“ They leave a metropolitan area behind to drive to a more rural area in which the wife’s family lives: “We drive down the main street of the village under a swollen bruise-purple sky. It’s not even five o’clock, but all the shops have drawn their rollers. Their doors are plastered with talismans: yellow strips of paper, thick with black writing (p.79).“ “Shopping malls and housing estates“ (p.78) become “talismans“ (ibid.), thereby indicating a shift of scene which changes the atmosphere and the tone. This passage is highlighted by an incident: while driving there, the husband hits something on the road but does not bother to stop (cf. p. 78).
Within the story, various details are mentioned that increase the verisimilitude: “She [the mother] smells like imitation Chanel, just as she always did (p. 80) or “Behind a fly screen, the door of my parent’s bedroom is ajar. The smell of unwashed clothes wafts out. A swaddled shape slumps in the rattan armchair, facing the curtained window. It could be my father, it could be a mountain of blankets. I think about pushing the door open, bringing a basin of water, washing his gnarled hands – hands that lashed a bamboo cane, too many times, and drew bloody welts on my little legs. I step back, ashamed (p.83).“ This abundance of details, with special focus on smells, helps to place the reader within the story. One is drawn into the narrative, which is important for every fictional narrative but might be of special importance to narratives which have mysterious elements in it. Once one is drawn into it, one is readier to accept the mysterious elements.
Dreams play an important role in the narrative. While the first dream section (cf. p. 82) is relatively short, compared with the other passages, the dream sections become longer and its contents also has an effect on the waking life, but more about that later. In the first dream section, the wife encounters the girl who has been presumably murdered. At this point it is still possible to read the dream section as what it first appears to be: a dream with no bearing on reality. The second dream section, however, has an effect on reality and is much longer. In it, the narrator has a “amber bracelet“ (p. 87) on her arm which she tries to wash away the next day. Thus, the reader no longer has the option of reading the section as literal dream passages unless the reader is willing to concede that the narrator might be unreliable. In any case, the tension of the narrative increases because the dreams with their mysterious content become more prevalent.
In this blog post, I have shown that the setting of the narrative in the village is set apart from more metropolitan areas. Moreover, I have demonstrated that the focus on details increases the verisimilitude and thus helps to ground the reader in the narrative. Lastly, it was illustrated how dreams contribute to increase the tension.
Chan, Grace. Of Hunger and Fury in „Black Cranes – Tales of Unquiet Women“. ed. Lee Murray and Geneve Flynn. Omnium Gatherum Los Angeles CA: 2020