Currently Reading: The Festival of Earthly Delights by Matt Dojny
In the tiny fictional Southeast Asian country of Puchai, Boyd Darrow and his less-than-faithful girlfriend/faux-wife Ulla have sex on a page of blacked-out words, like a letter we aren’t supposed to read. The novel is, in fact, epistolary, a series of apostrophes to the (as yet) unexplained “Hap”—a friend, I assume, and the voice in Boyd’s head that says, “Go deeper into the woods” or “Move to Puchai with Ulla…why not?” In addition to the blacked-out words, Dojny enhances his novel’s already rich words with small illustrations—a turtle’s face, a map of their apartment building—and excerpts from a hilarious parody of a country guidebook. What all this formal playfulness amounts to is the wittiest and most heartfelt of travel journals; every word and drawing captures the awkwardness of Boyd and Ulla’s experience and the seeming strangeness of their new culture, which overshadow but do not eliminate the foundational flaws in their own personal relationship.
The novel’s title refers to the “Festival of Taang Lôke Kwaam Banterng Sumitchanani,” Mai Mor’s annual bacchanalia, and while I am savoring every golden moment of Dojny’s book, I also eagerly wait to read how Boyd will interpret this monumental event.
Here’s a little taste of Dojny’s humor and Boyd’s haplessness after getting lost in Mai Mor and encountering a group of teenage boys throwing rotten fruit (most likely modeled after the intensely odorous durian fruit) at cars:
I was about twenty feet from them by now. They were laughing and throwing fruit and bounding up and down, and as I continued along the sidewalk, straight into their midst, I tried to compose my features into an expression that said: I’m just a gareng on my way home, minding my own business. I don’t think what you’re doing is cool, but I’m not judging you, either. It’s not really a big deal. Just don’t get anybody killed. I’m a visitor from New York City, the “Big Apple,” so, believe me, I’ve seen much worse. I once saw a homeless man stabbed in broad daylight outside of the Howard Johnson’s at Times Square. Another time, I saw a beautiful young Indian woman get hit by a taxi and fly forty feet through the air. The very fact that I have the confidence to walk casually among you proves that I’m not somebody to mess with. As you can see, I’m super-tall—almost a foot taller than any of you. Except for that one guy over there. He’s pretty tall. You can sense that I’m a respected guest in your country, but you also know I’m not some tourist who’s come here to sleep with your women and do your drugs and eat your pineapples and throw my cigarette butts in your rainforests. I’m a teacher—or, at least, very soon I’m going to start being a teacher—and I don’t view you as “the other.” I know that the same blood runs through all of our veins. You may not have realized this before, but I know that you realize it now, as you look into my eyes: I am not afraid.
This is the face that I presented to the group of shrieking malchaks as I approached them.
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The Festival of Earthly Delights by Matt Dojny
Dzanc Books, June 2012
ISBN: 9781936873692. 462 pp.