98 Wounds by Justin Chin
Manic D Press, 2011
121 pp., Paperback
By Alicia Franco
Justin Chin takes his readers through a world of chaos and wonder in his latest novel, 98 Wounds. The novel is a collection of short stories that are astonishingly intertwined. The dual themes of love and hate, pain and pleasure, life and death tango with one another, creating a rhythm that is tough to follow at first, but soon finds itself in step with each story. Delivering such a profound impact through brevity is difficult to do, and yet Chin does it with such ease. He is a true master of the craft. Being a poet as well, Chin’s stories could be read as prose poems, such as in the story “Woo” where the speaker talks of choosing “lovers diseased and maimed.” The speaker goes on to say, “My pick would have such white eyelids that flutter and fall off like the last petals on the last white flower at an outdoor wake; I chose a funeral in a bitter storm.” The words flow so beautifully, and the language is at times delicate, that even in moments of morbidity Chin finds a way to make the passages sing.
The characters in 98 Wounds range in different backgrounds from gay to straight, male to female, the living and the dying. Some of them live secret lives, delusions that they created to allow themselves to live in a world where they feel they do not fit in. Chin is writing for all those that feel like outcasts, the wallflowers leaning up against the wall. Everyone is in search of identity, the sense of self, and how each one of them fits into this world. Chin takes the rituals of everyday life, such as journaling, and shows that this is one way we can reconstruct our lives. There are moments of getting high, being strung out for days that are set softly next to visits of a dying mother in a hospital bed.
“She puts her hand on my head and strokes my head. My grandma lived with us when I was in preschool and during afternoon nap-time she would lie beside me and stroke my head and tickle my ear until I fell asleep, with Mom stroking my head, I feel like a little kid again.”
The repetition of the word “head” emphasizes the speaker’s need to find balance within his mind. Amongst all the disarray that constructs the speaker’s life he can still find comfort in the simple stroke and touch of his mother, the gentle caress soothing his restless brain. There is a longing for innocence, and for a time when the speaker was not blemished by the weight of this world, its malicious offerings of cheap highs. No matter who we are, I am sure we could all find ourselves in the characters that yearn for simpler times.
Witty and sometimes facetious Chin creates categories such as “AIDS Drugs That Sound Like Baby Hipster Names,” and “Disturbing and Unsettling Snatches of Conversation Overheard at a Sex Party.” Chin is playful in his own way, leaving the reader gasping, crying and laughing at the same time.
Chin brings to our attention that we are tragically immortal, wonderfully imperfect, that we can find the beauty within our surroundings and ourselves. As all of us go through life we encounter trauma from outside forces, and sometimes from within. These experiences might leave lesions on our bodies and souls, but they will eventually heal. Chin’s speaker in “Sugar” sums up this notion perfectly with his closing words:
“At the very end. At the forking road. At the closing gyre. You will know what you are. You may even know who. And even if it is just for the briefest of a flicker, taken on some rare forgiving shameless night or day, you will see all the exit signs, all the detours and off-ramps, all flashing lights lit up just for you.”
So sit back, grab some tissues and a comforting drink. Your wounds will open and they will be soothed by the brilliance of Justin Chin.
Alicia Franco is the Publisher Liaison for Eleven Eleven.