Phi Lok, the Specter
A cathartic book for those who remember Vietnam. Stanley: a brutish, overweight, often drunk, American retiree is married to a Thai girl half his age. the novel arches up through his brush with Asian ghosts, then down through his recovered bad memories of Vietnam, and finally lands Stanley at the end of a runway with no plane in sight. the book spirals, circles and concludes a forgotten war. More
Stanley, a brutish, overweight, often drunk American retiree is married to a Thai girl half his age. He fears the bad thoughts he was treated for forty years ago may be returning, and suspects a Thai truck driver of being an agent of this premonition. The premonition deepens as he witnesses a car hit a dog and break its back.
Later during a violent thunderstorm while he is very drunk, Stanley imagines a Thai monk skewers him, through and through, with a bamboo pike. The monk was trying to slay a ghost named Phi Lok rising out of the irrigation canal. The Thai doctor at the local hospital thinks Stanley is just drunk until he sees a family Buddhist tattoo exactly where Stanley says the bamboo pike went in. The Thai doctor is so shaken by the sight of this magic tattoo on a foreigner, that he immediately calls his family’s patriarch who is a political big shot in bangkok. Stanley’s wife Mia is eerily puzzled because she has never seen this tattoo on her husband’s back.
The family patriarch Dr. Orchid arrives and immediately recognizes the unconscious Stanley as a man he knew in Vietnam - a man who potentially could destroy his family’s good name. He fabricates a story about Stanley and Vietnam and tells mia that he has to take Stanley to Bangkok to sort out some old problems. Dr. Orchid orders the Thai doctor to pay Mia whatever she needs for her inconvenience, and promises her to have Stanley back in a week. Mia is convinced something truly bad is happening.
Dr. Orchid ensconces Stanley in a V.I.P. suite in his iconic Bangkok high rise named Orchid Towers. He calls in a favor from a dear friend who still works for the US Embassy and also knew the man in Vietnam. She suspects that Stanley is the man they both knew from Vietnam days, but she is not completely sure.
Dr. Orchid then calls in a top American psychiatrist to see if Stanley has any memories that could prove disastrous. During his stay in the V.I.P. room, it should be said that Stanley couldn’t be happier. It should also be noted that Mia with her new found revenue stream and Thai spies on the ground is becoming convinced that her drunk farang husband is sleeping with a new girlfriend in Bangkok.
After three sessions, the psychiatrist unlocks the bad thoughts in Stanley’s blocked memory. The disastrous facts for Dr, Orchid is that Baetheon was using Dr. Orchid’s own brother to get tribes to fight the Viet Cong in Laos by buying drugs from them in dollars. Not only was his brother a murderer, but he went on to become an international drug smuggler operating out of the infamous Golden Triangle region of Thailand.
Dr. Orchid, who has sworn to be responsible for Stanley’s safety, whisks him away to a tourist attraction he owns called the Orchid Farm. Although unaware of the complex issues being played out, Mia is well ahead of the move to the Orchid Farm and lays in wait for her cheating husband there.
Alone at the Orchid Farm, Dr. Orchid wants to apologize to Stanley on behalf of his family. He wants stanley to be a witness as Dr. Orchid prepares to kill himself in a final act of contrition. Mia, seeing a gun in Dr. Orchid’s hand, jumps him from behind and escapes pushing Stanley in a wheelchair. They spill into the parking lot after hitting a gate chain in the dark. Here they hear a single gun shot as Dr. Orchid commits suicide. A low flying Thai Air Force c-130 practicing touch-and-goes swoops over their heads as Stanley agonizingly discards his painful new memories and returns to the oblivious old Stanley.
At the end of the novel, people are symbolically doing what they can to keep the bad thoughts away. Mia is replacing her orchids one-by-one with more mundane flowers; the Thais perform a cathartic exorcism on Phi Lok; the US Embassy official denies a visa to the psychiatrist’s lady boy friend; and Stanley seeing a dog with a broken back walking on it’s front paws thinks this sight is hilarious.
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