Novel Review: “the Tattoo”

A summary of a novel : "The Tattoo".

In Chris McKinney’s first novel “The Tattoo”, you don’t fancy a knight in shining armor looking for his damsel in distress or either way. The rhetoric rants about filthy underwear, guns under the pillow, cigarettes jammed in the anus – you’ll know you are in a cosmos of murder, violence, pride, and hate.

            However, to appreciate this novel, you need to be on your cold feet over this grand quote at the title story: “Do we have the power to shape who we ultimately become?” Hence, in order to understand the ridged tale of Kenji Hideyoshi (main character), you need to understand yours.

            McKinney plots an average indie flick and hits the nail on the head by being exactly average and universal. Kenji’s story is seeping through the tale of Edmund Dantes (Count of Montecristo) or your friend who hates his father or your neighbor who used to be Cyprian – all of them being prisoners of circumstance, emotion, powerlessness and virtual brain damage. His story is anyone’s hellhole story, or mine, no matter how unlike but parallel. It is the story of massive Filipinos – like in how we are still stewards of the sins of our forefather’s for centuries now.

            McKinney borders on two subversive schemes. First: the infernal area of Hawaii kept shielded from earthly pride; a third world in an Eden like Hawaii and where racism is blunt. The cohabitation of Filipinos with Koreans, Japanese, and Vietnamese in that part of Hawaii suggests a typecast. “Koreans, for some reason, always want to open their business, unlike Filipinos who seemed to always work for somebody”.

            Second: choices. Kenji becomes the danger-magnet, “the one who commits hara-kiri before accepting defeat” and the antipathetic. His tattoo, forced on him through tradition, was his portal to angry past. But then this question remains: how can you wrestle against alien obsessions you are confronted with? How can you speak of love when all you know is anger? “Just when you think you’re out of the shit, when you’re running, looking back, and laughing, you run right into another pile, slip and fall on your ass. You never even see it coming, but the only thing you can do is pick yourself up and head for the next pile”. This is the cliché answer which real life can’t figure out.

            “The Tattoo” is a raw witness about discretion and consequences, principles and pragmatism, self-detachment and sanity. And that of course, you make your own cookie cuter world.

            Well enough of the scruple-raising bluster though. “The Tattoo” becomes seemingly semi-autobiographical. The plot is all over the place but then makes a lot of sense in the end. Kenji ends up killing the father he loathes because of a girl he loves. When Mamasan intervenes, he kills three nameless Koreans and winds up disowning his child. In this type of story, McKinney put in details like how Frank McCourt did in “Tis: A Memoir”. But he only cared less about prose.

            So for a greenhorn like him, don’t expect a well-written literature. In fact, the book is plainly hard to digest. Besides the choppy, sometimes technical phrases, there’s an overt use of colloquial language: “neva take pork ova through dis tunnel”, which appeared in most conversations.

            His susceptibility also shows in how he makes metaphors (though metaphors are incontestable):”…thinking of food when you are starving”, “malignant tumor of fear”, “flower leis which covered his neck on graduation day died…” and other too cheery blah blahs for a goon to say.

            And how could I not mention that this book was a movie, it is a cheap American chick flick. This book is a lexicon of all cuss words in the world with all the love gone. McKinney uses expletives in diverse meanings which is maybe logical for the whole theme. However, using it in almost every page (and sometimes unreasonably) is hyperbole.

            McKinney probably had his crucial immersion with the Filipinos and intricate research about late president Ferdinand Marcos for literature’s sakes. Besides the appetizing smell of the leaves and the red-and-black paperback cover, that is a literary mechanism which Filipino reader might hate or want to hear. He keeps the reader spellbound to ‘nowhereness’ and unpredictability without getting too depressed.

            In general, this book is good and bad. Good – because it is something that a writer has never thought of writing before. I think. Bad – because it is something that a writer has never thought of writing before. I think. Thus, a reader would only like it or…not.

            So I guess I will rag you with this question: How will Kenji kill himself?

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