‘Emperor’s New Clothes’ no longer touched the sides, even it missed the point. There was no more gap between pretence and reality. Before, the point had been that everyone breaks from the spell. Here the Emperor was clothed even when she wasn’t. It’s impossible for the readers of My Wipes to see the naked truth, because there isn’t any. They aren’t lying. They believe that your book is good. They can’t be saved.
Let me start by stating the obvious – taste is subjective, your masterpiece is my failure, my fond writer is your untalented hack. Sure. Right. Okay – but is that really true? How possible is it to devise a canon which can be, more or less, admired and appreciated? We shall ignore for a moment (unfairly) the thousands of years of academic careers dedicated to determining, undermining, creating and recreating a canon – be it Western or otherwise. Let’s stick to the casual reader, the dedicated reader, you and me.
I don’t much like the books of John Updike. I did, when I was younger, but as my reading tastes broadened I lost my interest in exploring (male) middle-class America’s obsession with sex and, to a lesser extent, material comfort. I think his Rabbit books will hold, but thousands of other pages can be left forgotten. But I can see what he is trying to achieve, and I think that he does. He writes well what he writes, well, ok – Okay.
Alice Munro, too. I can see why she won the Nobel, and I think it’s deserving enough, but as a writer she isn’t for me. I prefer greater stylistic flair and a stronger breakdown of narrative and the interaction between author, text, reader, characters. But again, I can appreciate what she writes and think she is definitely world-class.
So all of this preface is to say that Mazin Saleem’s My Wipes is a clever and funny take on this problem. It’s a farce, a faeces-ridden farce, and expresses in its absurdity the challenge of the modern literary world, when people jostle with one another to claim this text or that writer as ‘luminous’ ‘enthralling’ ‘irresistible’ ‘compelling’. You know the words, the skip across the brain because they are, ultimately, meaningless. There’s no meat to them, just loose flapping skin. If every review throws up the same tired adjective then perhaps that says more about the reading public than it does about the writers who must oh-so-tediously be described as the voice of their generation.
My Wipes explores (and there’s another tired word) the uneasy relationship between the reader and the acclaimed masterpiece. In it, the narrator attends a book launch for a book which has been hailed as a masterpiece. All around him, smiling faces, engaged listeners. The genius of the author! It’s astonishing to see in person, isn’t it?
But the narrator isn’t convinced. He opens the book and can’t quite believe what he sees when he opens it. On the left page, a colour copy of used toilet paper. On the right page, a description of it, thoughts while producing it, random asides. Notes. He has real trouble understanding this, and looks around and the other people. Their eyes are shining, they are enthralled – how? Why? What’s going on?
It’s a clever way to dissect the situation in which everyone but you has stars in their eyes for a genius you just cannot see. Self-doubt is a possibility, of course, but also righteous indignation at the foolishness of others. The narrator goes through both experiences.
The use of faeces is quite inspired, and is thematically rich while keeping the tone light. This is a fun story to read, and it’s funny.
Whereas you’d gone with single ply, I use Charmin Luxury. Whereas you did a standard, going-through-the-motions pressing, I gouge and scrape, I reuse the tissues as palimpsest, and as for my at stool thoughts, I actually use a proof-reader? Know it’s less faeces not fewer. Don’t let the POV shift inexplicably from me to my rectum. Make sure there are no dangling participles, run-on sentences. Being on the loo might feel passive, but artists know that it’s not and doesn’t warrant passive voice. And I wouldn’t even think of using colour copies and not the original sheets, with mere summaries of their faint smells. Does ‘show not tell’ not mean anything to you hacks?
And it is, of course, an attempt to unpack the act of writing itself, to understand how writing goes from the initial thought to the finished, printed page, and what makes it through and what does not. Why was this author selected? Why was that story accepted? Why does a writer abandon this attempt but not that?
Reading through the prism of shit works exceptionally well, and the sting at the end solidifies the watery mass into a fibrous delight. Oh dear, now I’m doing it too.
My Wipes is a short story by writer Mazin Saleem. You can read the story online at Minor Literatures.
|Nationality||Uncertain – He is based in London|
Please visit the Short Story Reviews page to see all of the available reviews.