Review by DW McKinney
Sweet Time by Weng Pixin
Drawn & Quarterly, June 2020
Review by DW McKinney
Social media showcases our intimacies and our failures in filtered realities. We’ve come a long way since the ill-shot Kodak moments we hope never see the light of day again. Yet, these filtered and unfiltered moments capture life—real and imagined—in all its varied forms. Where they find a harmonious existence is in Sweet Time, a compilation of memoir, prose, and surrealist fiction by Singaporean artist Weng Pixin. The result is a hybrid of a photo album and post-modern diary that archives humanity’s abstract glory and pain.
Sweet Time begins with “Birds,” a comic that follows a couple trekking across town. They find a bird enclosure on a private residence, hidden behind a verdant hedge. The spontaneity of this moment is gentle, set to the soundtrack of cooing and tweeting flamingoes, pigeons, and storks. The trilling symphony dims as the couple’s relationship unravels. The story sets an unwavering standard of bare-faced intimacy that continues throughout the book.
“But 1 came along. Then 2. Next 3. All of them prettier, braver, and
wiser than me. As if they’ve each walked a desert, crossed the English Channel
and flew over the Grand Canyon…and I, of 1, now -1, sit alone in my room,
collecting memories and desires.”
— from “Tender”
“Home Diaries” is dedicated to everyday ephemera as it depicts whimsy, social criticism, or common fears. There are more moments like this in the subsequent visual journals, which document life in Argentina, New York, and Lampung. “Ballad” embodies effeuiller la marguerite, or what we’ve learned on the schoolyard playground as “he loves me, he loves me not.” Poetic language underlies the decline of the narrator’s relationship with an unnamed man as each scene alternates between a depiction of “he loves me” or “he loves me not.” “Infatuation” is a tender song about love and its presentations in childhood, but readers will find that it also resonates in adulthood.
Interspersed in Sweet Time are mixed media artwork and surrealist stories featuring anthropomorphic creatures whose interactions are an allegory for our relationships. Where the surreal melts away, the unashamed truth lies at the forefront.
The novel is a collection of experiences with no clear linear narrative, but they stay consistent in their hopefulness. The stories often begin without context, but as they unfold there is an inherent relatability that transcends expectations. Even when readers are never sure of what they’re supposed to take away, the text leaves us with biting ruminations we carry from page to page.
“We must fall, be humbled, pick ourselves up, and carry on.” — from “Roses”
“Darkness fell, yet I’m embraced…revived for a second by your words, thoughts,
gestures,…, confessions.” — from “Discount Connection”
Sweet Time exists in a genre all its own. Calling it a hybrid work doesn’t quite capture the full spectrum of the media and methods Pixin uses—nor the amount of unnarrated space provided for readers to sit in their own thoughts. The misspellings and errors—crossed out and corrected by Pixin—further remove any pretention and solidify the bond between reader and narrator.
Each story unfolds in gorgeous imagery. A curved line could depict sensuality or confusion; the razor-sharp straightness of branches represents precariousness and eroticism. Even in muddied sections, the unclear lines and shapes lend to the story’s subtext. These social-media-worthy images and heartful reflections combine to create something altogether different, but necessary to a more complete expression of the human experience. Pixin’s succinct revelations, pry open the mind and make her meditations on love and life all the more sweet, sorrowful, and comforting.
DW McKinney (she/her) is the Reviews Editor for Linden Avenue Literary Journal and the 2020 fiction web resident for The New Southern Fugitives. Say hello at dwmckinney.com or on Twitter/Instagram (@thedwmckinney).