Review: ‘Look Who’s Morphing’

tom_choLook Who’s Morphing is the debut collection by Melbourne writer, Tom Cho. In it, Cho employs humour and a bevy of pop culture references to deconstruct the concept of identity.

His prose style is simple, unadorned and has an almost childlike quality to it. In many of the stories, Cho analyses just how saturated with popular culture our Western lives have become. At various points, the identities of the protagonist/s become almost interchangeable with those of iconic pop culture characters (The Fonz, Godzilla, The Muppets, etc). Tom Cho and his family regularly appear in the stories, though the surreal turns the narrative takes suggest this is anything but non-fiction. I suppose you could classify it as metafiction.

I preferred the first half of this, with major props going to ‘Dirty Dancing’ and ‘The Exorcist’. This is perplexing because the latter half is probably stronger (the standouts being ‘Pinocchio’ and ‘Cock Rock’). I inclined towards stories where I was familiar with the source material. Which brings me to an interesting point: intertextuality demands the reader be familiar with whatever’s being referenced; familiarity is a necessary factor if the reader wants to be in on the joke. Fortunately, the movies and television shows Cho references are staples of pop culture and are therefore highly accessible. There is, however, a noticeable emphasis on eighties franchises, so be prepared.

Though he’s adept at the short form, I would say Cho’s writing is at its strongest when he gives himself room to explore his themes. It’s no surprise, then, that the longest stories were the most interesting, while the shorter ones (the two–three page ‘Dinner with …’ series) tended to be a little disposable.

My main issue with this collection was that I grew fatigued with Cho’s devices. Lumped together, these strange stories are cohesive but repetitive. While reading, I kept hoping the next story would be the one to come along and dazzle me with some emotional depth. Instead, the stories remained sparsely written, theme-driven (as opposed to character-driven), and almost flippant in tone. Although Cho’s voice is unique and interesting, predictability really let his narratives down. By this I mean that by the time I had reached the latter stories, the ‘formula’ had become apparent, which was a problem because absurdity really only impacts when it’s unexpected. Maybe this is a personal reading prejudice. I suppose I’m predisposed to like collections with variety, collections that touch on different styles and genres. Lighter stories are a nice break when sandwiched between more substantial offers. Include too many light pieces, though, and the whole thing feels frivolous. To me, Look Who’s Morphing straddles this line of frivolity.

Having said all this, the humour was really second to none, and if I’m using my level of enjoyment as a gauge then I would say this was a worthy investment of my time. Cho is a writer to watch and I’m interested to see what he comes up with in the future

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