The sharper edge to traveling in Asia

WoWasis book review: Steve Rosse’s ‘She Kept the Bar Between Them’

Written By: herbrunbridge - Mar• 11•11

Steve Rosse is a compelling storyteller and an excellent essayist.  He also knows Phuket like the back of his hand, and his short story, Two for the Road (read it here at WoWasis) displays a hard, poignant edge that is characteristic of his best writing.

Rosse’s latest book, She Kept the Bar Between Them, is only available in the eBook version (2011, eISBN 978-616-245-003-7), and we at WoWasis are ludditic enough that we still like to hold our books and manually thumb through the pages. We loved what we read, but do wish that it was sold as a traditional book.

Authors of Asian-based fiction in Baby Boomer generation are now writing about deaths of expats, mainly in the third person, but it’s transparently about their own futuristic passings. Most writers of that age, in the Bangkok Fiction genre, having seen friends and loved ones die lingering, painful deaths, are questioning when life really stops having any meaning. And many of their readers, in the same age category, have dealt with their own mortality, through strokes, heart attacks, and a myriad of deadly bodily invasions not generally visited upon the young. To the point, they’re figuring out how best to pull the plug, when it would be appropriate, and who (if anyone) to be involved in the collusion. What they know is this: death — whatever that is — is preferable to a twilight existence in a hospital or hospice. 

Which brings us to our favorite story in Rosse’s book, Pilgrimage (read it online), in which a veteran traveler arrives in Bangkok from his home overseas. He hasn’t got much time left, but his quest includes a beer and a cigarette, forbidden to him due to a medical condition. Bangkok has been etched in his memory, and the signs, smells, and street life create a feeling for “home” that he obviously didn’t have at home. We leave him at a bar, quest fulfilled, and life somehow resolved. It’s reminiscent of a woman, not very old, who we once met while leaving the Generalife gardens at the Alhambra in Spain’s Granada. The doors were being locked at night, and we mentioned this to her as she sat peacefully on a bench. “I stay here every night,” she told us, “the guards know I’m here, and I don’t have much time left. I’ve decided this is where I want to die.” 

Rosse’s never far from Jack Reynolds, the writer whose A Woman of Bangkok is considered to be the first book in the Bangkok Fiction genre (read Rosse’s essay on Reynolds). In An Old Man with No Stories to Tell, Rosse lives the thoughts of a man who lives his last hours through his memories, of the girl Malee, whose name we suspect was derived from the protagonist of a wonderful old book called Tiger Claw and Velvet Paw, in a serviceman’s bar called the White Leopard (the name of Reynolds’ femme fatale). Although having little control over his body any more, the hospital staff is bemused at his involuntary physical reaction, as evidenced by their ongoing commentary. 

Not every story in Rosse’s book is about older people. There’s plenty about life in Thailand, in its many permutations, and the author has always been a keen observer. But he does have a unique ability to see down the road through the telescope of life, and that’s what we’ll remember most about this book.

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