Friday, January 18, 2008

Shelf Life: Vacuum Packed

"Every experience seems to be merging into one, leaving the meaningless pattern of something not even as significant as a one-night stand," thus Craig realized when hunting around Babylon, the (in)famous Bangkok gay sauna cum hotel, which is touted as the "Disneyland of sex".

On the other side of the world, upon entering yet another London gay bar, Jamie realizes that "It was like some bad movie on a permanent loop - go to a bar; get drunk; go to a club; get high; pick up; maybe have sex; throw them out at lunchtime; nap all afternoon and prepare for Saturday night where he'd maybe take two pills instead of one; home Sunday morning and sleep all day."

Vacuum Packed by Bangkok-based journalist Robin Newbold follows the lives of ex-lovers Craig and Jamie as they struggle with the alienation of gay life. Craig, having recently known that he is HIV positive, flies to Thailand where he meets other sex tourists who, like him, is drawn to the exotic wonders of Bangkok, Pattaya, and Kho Samui. While going through a line of scantily clad boys in Soi Twilight, Craig noted, that "what was great in such a fantasy land... was that whatever you wanted you got, provided someone didn't get to him first." On the other hand, Jamie indulges in the excess and vanity of the gay life in London, basking in his beauty, and eventually gripped by the gay porn industry.

What follows is a raw and deeply moving account of the alienation that both characters feel while actively consuming the superficial - hence, vacuum packed - thrills of life. Behind this flashy exterior is their need to escape the emptiness gnawing them inside. One finds a way out and the other ends his quest tragically.

The book gives hard blows on the realities of the excess of gay life and whether it ultimately leads anywhere but more gloom. The strange thing is, one might be sort of critical of the vacuous side of the gay subculture, but one is incessantly drawn to it - the string of one-night stands, the endless partying, the vanity, the egocentricity, etc. It is easy to get drowned, and the book, without necessarily imposing any judgments on anybody, perhaps helps us realize that. I certainly recommend this book, and be prepared to be dazzled while reading it and do some reflection afterwards.

Photo credit: Amazon

3 comments:

Kiks Phulumulu said...

sadness grips me when i see and experience vicariously gay life high-rising and then plummeting (and trying to rise again... only to fall... over and over...)

and they put it in a book. well, it may be good to document and feel the sense (or the lack of it) in city gay life.

on a personal note: i leapt into a plane and when i got back, GOSH, you've flourished with posts. gotta read. gotta read....

kawadjan said...

hi suking kiks. jetsetter ka talaga dear.

i agree. the more i read about the vacuous lives of urban gay men, the more i'm doubt if life is ever gay for us at all.

rob said...

Hi, Kawadjan, I was browsing and came across your review. I am the author of Vacuum-Packed and thank you for the decent write-up. Glad you enjoyed it, if enjoying it is the right word!

Rob

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