Author : Malachi Edwin Vethamani
Genre : Short stories
Novel Pages : 92

I did not quite expect to like Coitus Interruptus and Other Stories as much as I did. The not-very suggestive title denotes the interruption of a sexual act, and someone could be forgiven for mistaking the book for a collection of erotica.

I’m glad that I gave this book a chance. Coitus Interruptus and Other Stories shows that Malachi Edwin Vethamani, already very well-received as a poet of two collections – Complicated Lives (2016) and Life Happens (2017) – is an adept and emphatic writer of short stories.

In Malachi Edwin Vethamani’s poetry collections, everyday life and its realities are the substance from which larger questions of existence are explored. His poems provide snapshots of the life of a Malaysian everyman – albeit one who is couched in the immediate experience of an ethnic Indian. Coitus Interruptus and Other Stories shares this quality – like his poems, the stories in this collection are rooted in realistic social interactions in the lives of Malaysian individuals – although the stories are little more specific in their focus: they are concerned with sex.

More accurately, the stories concern the act of pursuing sex, of withdrawing from sex, of being failed by sex, and how sex is so powerful a human drive and desire that it interrupts the rational and orderly plans that we have for our lives.

This is best exemplified in the opening story of the collection that serves as its namesake: in Coitus Interruptus, Sunita, a young woman with ambitions of furthering her studies overseas, finds her plans interrupted when she learns that she might be pregnant. Kumar, the man whom she has regular trysts with, is not a bad man by external social standards – but his violent lovemaking (which she finds exciting and returns to regularly) and the mention of a friend who is ill-treated by her husband seem to suggest that bliss may not be what awaits a marital solemnization of a relationship built on lust.

Other stories in the collection are also praiseworthy. Prema Akka tells the story of a younger brother who finds his relationship with his sister becoming distant. When he meets her overseas, he learns the reason for this estrangement: she has begun living in with a partner who refuses to marry her, and in fear of shame she keeps this relationship a secret from her family.

Not all the stories in this collection engage in romantic trysts. Drowning is a brief short story of a man of Indian ethnicity who is hospitalized and experiences shame when his male Muslim nurse shames him while cleaning his genitals. Nor are all the stories about sexual organs and acts, as The Kiss tells the story of a narrator who refuses to perform his duty of kissing the corpse of a relative.

Such is the nature of sex and its power over human lives: it bonds humans and drives a wedge between each other, it is a tool to shame or establish social identifiers, and it distorts our judgment and shatters our sense of rationality.

That said, the collection is not made up entirely of serious, hard-hitting stories. Some of the stories read more like anecdotes that one will find told among a circle of friends. An example of stories of this nature is Beaten Twice, a story about a man having difficulty urinating due to possible supernatural causes. Some will find these stories trivial, whereas others might find their inclusion a pleasant touch of humour to the collection.

Interestingly, many of the main characters in Coitus Interruptus and Other Stories are women and gay men. The author is himself a father of two. One of the marks of a good storyteller is the ability to immerse oneself in the experiences of different people whose lives and circumstances are vastly different from one’s own, and to be able to tell their life stories with conviction and believability. In writing these stories Malachi Edwin Vethamani has not only proven that he is an excellent storyteller, but has inadvertently been the author of one of the few Malaysian works in English that directly deal with queer experiences and women’s sexuality.

At times serious, often explicit, and at times light-hearted and humourous, Coitus Interruptus and Other Stories is nonetheless constantly humane at heart. It is a remarkable collection of stories that is well worth reading, and in writing the stories in this collection Malachi Edwin Vethamani gives life to the experiences of ethnic Indian Malaysians and express what it means to be human in this world.

Malachi Edwin Vethamani’s Coitus Interruptus and Other Stories is now available at selected major bookstores nationwide. Read a local book recently? Drop us a comment or send us an email at editors@eksentrika.com to share your thoughts with us!