Duanwad Pimwana investigates ordinary and working-class Thailand. In her stories, characters aspire for more but remain suspended in routine. Unable to escape, they bide their time, waiting for an extraordinary event to end their stasis. Now published in English for the first time, this collection offers insight, critique, and an exploration of class, gender, and disenchantment in a changing country.
Pimwana's translator, Mui Poopoksakul, does a beautiful job with prose and selection alike, offering stories from the first two decades of Pimwana's literary career. As a result, Arid Dreams serves as both an introduction to Pimwana's style and preoccupations, and a sped-up way to watch her grow from a gifted story writer to an utter master of the form. This is not to say that Arid Dreams is perfect. Its stories range from exceptional to definitively flawed, but its few misfires serve to illuminate the rest of the collection in fascinating and relevant ways ... Pimwana is profoundly good at compression. She can turn a moment or gesture into the point at which an entire life turns. Unusually, she's able to do this as both tragedy and comedy ... Most of the stories in Arid Dreams land in dual emotional territory, nudging the reader to reconsider her laughter in the light of her rage, or her rage in the light of her empathy. Pimwana's skill at creating multiplicity makes her mastery clear. Each of her stories poses its own moral challenge, pleasurable and unsettling at once. Taken together, they are a phenomenal puzzle to read.
Regardless of the periods in which they were composed, all of the narratives now available in English for the first time show a confident writer at the top of her game, evidence of Pimwana’s world-building strengths and her skill at conjuring unique personalities on the page ... a book worth recommending ... In these stories, Pimwana keenly works to mold characters who shun the simplicity of a black and white existence. As a result, the reader is left in the uncomfortable position of developing sympathy for Pimwana’s disagreeable protagonists ... Hers is a powerful voice deserving of worldwide attention. Thanks to the superb wareeork of translator Mui Poopoksakul, a whole new audience will now have the opportunity to discover these enticing landscapes filled with troubled, memorable characters.
Because these characters are trapped, either by their circumstances or by their own obsessive thought processes, the prose is rife with repetition, an effective narrative strategy that can also become frustrating ... Several of the stories are told with heavy irony from the perspectives of blinkered or boorish men whose foibles and fragility seemingly are the point. But these stories about gender also arrive at the most unsatisfying insights ... Many of these stories, though punctuated with flashes of mordant humor, conclude with similarly pithy, oddly formal lessons. Earthy, spare stories that paint a bleak portrait of human shortcomings.