I make a point of publicly sharing all the reviews of my work that I know of, regardless of whether they are favourable (learn why here). So here are all the reviews of Look Who’s Morphing that have come to my attention. Most of the longer reviews are excerpted here, with links to full-text versions provided where available.
North American and European edition
Is this truth or fiction? Is this a novel, a memoir, or an academic experiment with language? It’s often hard to tell, and perhaps that’s the point. Look Who’s Morphing is undoubtedly a gem. (Melissa Hergott, 15 April 2015) [Link to full review]
Australian author Tom Cho’s extraordinary book of short stories, Look Who’s Morphing… is infused with a fierce, transgressive eroticism inflected with anxiety. (The author manages) to locate (his) work at the intersections of the world of dreams and the world of pop in ways that are fresh and engaging….
Cho has a serious reputation in his own country… The author has a more sophisticated intelligence than the sometimes simplistic and deadpan voice of his narrator would suggest. (Tom Sandborn, 9 May 2014) [Link to full review]
Tom Cho demonstrates that culture and cultural products travel the world across borders, transnationally and transculturally. Homogeneous products become unthinkable and transcultural hybridity is no longer seen as the fusion of two homogeneous parts or “two zones of purity” but of entities that were ‘always already’ culturally hybrid (Consalvo 129)…. Godzilla orDungeons & Dragons are apt examples of films and computer games that were endlessly re-made and adapted across cultures so that they are inherently hybrid products. [Link to full review]
Already lauded and awarded in Cho’s native Australia, his Stateside arrival is sure to elicit gasps, guffaws, and more…. This is fluid fiction, he seems to insist on every page: forget any expectations about culture, race, gender, sexuality, and more … embrace the pure, fantastical stories found here. (Terry Hong, 3 April 2014) [Link to full review]
(T)here are no “weak” stories in this collection…
Cho gets a lot of distance out of his pop culture ephemera, successfully commenting on the sometimes-overwhelming shadow of familial expectations and cultural diaspora—the twin unifying threads throughout this collection. The book is gleefully absurd, opening a window into Cho’s pop culture card catalogue of a brain capable of bridging the gap between Elvis and the atom bomb and the von Trapps and Whitney Houston with equal degrees of ease. (Andrew Wilmot, 16 April, 2014) [Link to full review]
…it reads more like a dream journal being kept by someone with an overactive imagination—in the most somewhat-exhausting-but-mostly-interesting-and-entertaining way possible… Cho’s deliciously astute observations regarding the mutability of identity make for the perfect juicy center in the box of candy-colored bonbons that is Look Who’s Morphing. (John Bavoso, 11 April 2014) [Link to full review]
Let me tell you something: if you are writing about the plot and characters of Dirty Dancing, now [sic] matter how surrealist and transformative you make your story, you are writing fanfiction. That is the very definition of the word. So this is a book of fanfiction. Unfortunately, the short stories within read like the very worst of Fanfiction.net, like they were written by the most beginner of emerging writers. (Karri Justina Shea, 20 March 2014) [Link to full review]
Race, sex and sexuality are teased out in sad, disturbed, tongue-in-cheek playfulness…. While dense, the novel is a quick read, and fun, if you’re willing to brave the collected madness. Just be careful about who it changes you into. (Michael Lyons, 4 July 2014) [Link to full review]
Look Who’s Morphing, his first book to appear in Canada, is a collection of linked stories that are less about their protagonist and more about how easily identity shifts and crumbles…. Cho has said that he likes “fiction that flaunts its fictitiousness,” and his stories flout reality in the flashiest way. (25 July 2014) [Link to full review]
I often thought that the concepts for these stories, in their attempts to be “transgressive” (a term that grows more tedious with every year that passes) didn’t really challenge the writer, and therefore didn’t challenge me as a reader. Still, one cannot deny that Cho has some serious writing chops: his stories have a way of being funny, sensitive, rebellious and revolting all at once, and he shows great control over his form. (Mark Sampson, 15 August 2014) [Link to full review]
Tom Cho effectively captures the transient nature of identity and the whimsy of his writing, blurred with slices of his own life and pop culture memory, ultimately holds together this short gasping of fun. (Joshua, 11 July 2014) [Link to full review]
Tom Cho’s debut, Look Who’s Morphing, is a loosely linked story/ vignette collection that is perhaps the most funky, weird, psychedelic read of 2014 (or perhaps of the new millennium, at least for me)….
…In an ingenious riffing off of Gulliver’s Travels, [the protagonist] is at one point tied down, only to be subjected to sexual acts by… diminutive groupies, who are of course insatiable. The one thing that Cho keeps coming back to in all of these stories seems to be one underlying theme: you are what you perform and that what you desire says as much about you as the way you actually look. While this message certainly contains gravitas as it is represented in this collection, the social contexts that ground so many of these stories are rooted in social difference, and we also understand the desire to be something else can be influenced by the desire to be nearer to something normative, to be closer to a center of power, and so we understand that desire is itself the issue… (Stephen Hong Sohn, 12 September 2014) [Link to full review]
Tom Cho takes media tropes and totally goes to town with them, from Godzilla to the Sound of Music. This sounds like pure wacky fun, but it actually also reflects on migranthood and being Chinese-Australian very poignantly. There is also a lot of literal shapeshifting, which is one topic that trans authors can do in a really particular and awesome way, I feel, even when it is not specifically about transness. [Link to full review]
Look Who’s Morphing kicks you mercilessly from one surreal and often outrageously campy scenario to another as Tom Cho and his immediate family shape-shift their way through a landscape largely derived from 70s and 80s pop culture. Squirm as Auntie Wei’s head spins 360 degrees while she spews and quotes from Cho’s successful arts-funding applications. Be envious as Cho’s 55m-tall cock-rock god slays Tokyo with his Meatloaf medley before a gaggle of Lilliputian girls get personal. Cho, who is completing a doctorate at Deakin University, is a modern Ovid, questioning notions of culture and identity through a series of bizarre metamorphoses that will have you rushing back to those old Suzie Quatro albums with renewed vigour. (William Yeoman, 2 June 2009)
… Cho’s fiction is playful, subversive, a big kick in the post-post-postmodern behind. There’s more to Cho’s work than eliciting big laughs, but how often do you close a book, then open it right back up again just to relive that pleasure? (Catherine Ford, 2 September 2009, p. 21) [Link to full review]
… The prose is breezy and filled with one-liners that conflate “the worlds of fantasy and the literal”. Auntie Ling, for example, “watches Star Trek films when she wants escapism, but when she wants reality she watches National Lampoon films”.
Cho displays a fine eye for the camp and outrageous… For those on his wavelength, Cho’s book is entertaining and thought-provoking. (Jay Daniel Thompson, 13-14 June 2009, Review, p. 17) [Link to full review]
… Too often, experimental writing leaves storytelling at the door but Cho manages to weave tales that keep the reader’s interest, and that are firmly grounded in the familiar themes of human vulnerability and desire. His voice is a refreshing addition to Australian literature. (Eleanor Limprecht, 21 June 2009, Extra, p. 12) [Link to full review]
There is plenty of fun to be had as Cho riffs on the idea of identity through nationality, sexuality, history and gender. (…) With greatest appeal for readers looking for quality narratives combining pop culture references with theory, Look Who’s Morphing is an engaging reflection of the Zeitgeist. (Louise Swinn, 15 August 2009, A2, p. 27) [Link to full review]
At first, Tom Cho’s Look Who’s Morphing reminded me of David Sedaris’s Santaland Diaries. Both are collections of stories, pithily written, hilarious. But there similarities stop. Short story writers have to be able to fit a lot into a small space, they’re essentially miniaturists; but while Sedaris can create a character out of a couple of lines of dialogue and a quick description, he cares little about the language he uses, his format is straight forward, linear narrative. It’s his insight into character that drives his stories: how people survive the stress of being a Christmas elf; the dark lengths to which a housewife will go to rid herself of her hubbie’s Vietnamese love child.
In contrast, Cho is interested in the ways language and genre themselves can be transformed – morphed. He delights in bending meanings and expectations to breaking point – in common lingo, he likes fucking with your head. If, as an F2M, Cho has himself ‘morphed’, he also pushes his words, stressing them into strange, new worlds; worlds in which his uncle begins talking like an old skool computer and needs rebooting; where his grandmother teaches him that the wrong tonal inflection in Cantonese can turn an “electronic mail-sorting machine” into “compulsory jury duty”; where the language of schlock Hong Kong movies is used to put a call centre under attack by ninjas (a resourceful worker replaces her severed leg with computer parts).
Written over a nine-year period, these stories draw on Cho’s Chinese identity in the gentlest and most whimsical of the pieces, but mostly they are about popular culture in flux. Open any page and out jumps Dr Phil, Captain Von Trapp, a Chinese vampire or C-3PO; except they’re not quite looking the way you think they should.
Along the way, Cho-as-narrator morphs himself into Godzilla, a muppet, a car and Whitney Houston’s bodyguard – and tells us what it’s like seeing the world from a fresh perspective. It’s too glib to read his stories as a metaphor for his own gender journey: they represent transformations of language, each one a seething test tube of conflicting genres and reversed expectations – a linguistic gender fuck, a garden of imaginative delights. (Andrew Shaw, 30 April 2009, p. 10)
Nothing exceeds like excess. A whacked-out set of tales on identity and transformation, short-form fictions and mash-ups of scenarios mined from the rich vein of metamorphosis in popular culture… The final entry, ‘Cock Rock’, is both an astonishing climax to the collection and a fantastic contribution to the literature of excess. (Stephen Atkinson, December 2009) [Link to full review]
… Reading these parts of Look Who’s Morphing, one can’t help but feel that Cho could have written a much better book, although obviously a completely different one, if he had restricted himself to the question of Chinese/Australian identity and presented it in a more conventional tone and structure. (David Messer, Spectrum, 23-24 May 2009, p. 31) [Link to full review]
… Far from being disposable, clever appropriations of pop-culture that assume Cho’s real identity lies elsewhere in the ‘Asian’ experience, these stories actively reform pop culture and identity to the extent that it is impossible to maintain such distinctions. The book’s title, coupled with the scar-faced author photo on the cover, ultimately becomes a kind of taunt. The obvious answer is ‘Cho’, yet in refusing direct self-disclosure, Cho is more concerned with artifice and the artful, the fictional masking and critical unmasking of self-image. [Link to full review] (Keri Glastonbury, No. 197, Summer 2009, p. 57)
Cho’s writing is pervasive in its ability to entertain; it seems effortless. And yet the book’s themes linger after the last outrageous transformation is complete. In the end, there is nothing funny about questioning who we are, where we come from and where we belong. On morphing, Cho tells his father that ‘the majority of these myths and stories ultimately suggested that morphing was difficult and complex’ (142). Just how complex, Cho demonstrates beautifully across each story, with the right amount of humour, and the right amount of pain. And mostly with a little bit of each. (Alice Robinson, Vol. 14, No. 1, April 2010) [Link to full review]
… it’s a full-on exploration of identity and all its facets, taken to extremes. Sexual, cultural, familial, national… it’s all here. And it works…. (T)his is one of the most original, fun and thought-provoking books I’ve read in a long time. (Sky Harrison, No. 17, Dec 2009, 55-56)
Look Who’s Morphing may have taken Tom Cho nine years to write, but it’s been well worth the wait. This collection of strange and absurd short stories takes the reader on a journey that requires strong dedication to giving over to his (and your) imagination; but it’s easy. You want to believe our protagonist can transform into a Muppet, Godzilla or a Ford Bronco 4×4. You want to believe he is a 55 meter tall Cock Rock God being pleasured by 20 women. For those who say the short story is dead, here is proof that the genre can mutate into whatever it likes in its bid to survive and ultimately thrive. (Rachel Cook, May 2009, p. 27)
Reading all of Tom Cho’s stories in a single sitting proved to be an exhilarating experience that left me reconsidering past and broken familial relationships, the politics of identity-formations, as well as the insecurities and uncontrollable desires that rule both heterosexual and homosexual bodies alike… The imaginative ride for both author and reader is long, hard and nasty, but ultimately mutually beneficial. All of us learn that nothing should be taken seriously. And that being too concerned with our cultural identities can drive us mad. And a dark and cynical laughter, mingled with a little empathy, remains the only cure. (Cyril Wong, Issue 5, June 2009) [Link to full review]
… You might have noticed that I think this book is hilarious, and in fact spurred me to multiple ‘let me read this to you’ moments…
If there is such a thing as classically postmodern, then Look Who’s Morphing definitely fits that description. It’s relentlessly intertextual, openly questioning and questing, and it takes storytelling to absurdist but never inhumane extremes. But it’s also inclusive and playful. Cho’s written identities defy the linear narratives of self imposed by technology, product lust, received knowledge and ancestry to emerge as shifting sands: the endless metaphors and similes for the self eventually resolving, not blurring, into the person.
Verdict: the Fonz says yes.
(Estelle Tang, 15 June 2009) [Link to full review]
One major distinction between writers of Cho’s age group and those of their parents’ generation is the way they relate to popular culture. Look Who’s Morphing explores Gen X/Y’s ambivalent relationship with the cultural legacy of the ’80s. Beatles-and-Stones-adoring Boomers habitually yearn for the decade that made them, but nostalgia for the era of Gordan Gecko economics and bouffant hairdos is rarely so simple. Only a dose of heavy irony can make the excess and ugliness of the eighties lovable, and this is exactly what the eighteen stories in this collection provide…
His mimicry of pop culture’s debased patois makes a dialect familiar to all us of strange once more, revealing it as the true twenty-first century lingua franca. If older writers want to know where fiction is going they best become fluent in this language. If young writers want their elders’ respect they will have to do something even more difficult—learn to escape it… (James Halford, 28 June 2009) [Link to full review]
… By the book’s end I wanted to slap The Bodyguard DVD out of Cho’s hand and replace it with a Fassbinder compilation, the whole time insisting in an entirely foolish manner that there was such a thing as objective quality. The world that created Dirty Dancing also produced The Band Wagon. The culture responsible for Fantasy Island is also responsible for Hancock’s Half Hour… Cho, to be fair, is operating in a complicated field, and handling apparently simple yet fundamentally unstable material. The transience of pop is, hysterical tone acknowledged, a dangerous thing indeed to allow into the realm of literary fiction, filled as it is with old-fashioned notions of timelessness. Too much product placement and junk kills literary prose… (Adam Rivett, June 2009, pp. 44-45) [Link to full review]
Look Who’s Morphing is a surprising, funny collection of short stories, which converge on themes of family, cultural influence, technology, sexuality and ethnicity. I previously read the story ‘The Bodyguard’ (collected here) in Best Australian Stories 2007, and loved it. Look Who’s Morphing is energetic, postmodern, and involves a series of characters who may or may not be based on the author and his family, getting into a series of borderline bizarre cross-cultural/cross-sub-cultural situations… (Angela Meyer, March 2009, p. 34)
Some of the stories and short prose pieces in Tom Cho’s first collection, Look Who’s Morphing, are perfect magazine pieces, the kind that gives a literary mag a shot of Viagra if it’s too uniform in tone… I would like to see what he can do with novellas – ‘Cock Rock’ is a clever take on Swift and it would be good to see him, shall we say, fully extended. I also liked the short and pithy ‘Dinner With My Brother’, where Chinese names are discussed – “if ‘patchy employment history’ has a name, then that name must be ‘Tom Cho'”.
This collection is a sparkling and polymorphous addition to that history – the energy drink you have when you’re not a transformer, but kind of wish you were… (Genevieve Tucker, 27 May 2009) [Link to full review]
… Ultimately, I read the book as a metaphor for life and the inevitability of change. Although Tom Cho is passive in most of the transformations, he is always in control of the situations he finds himself, which suggests that though we are often passive in life’s changes, things will turn out fine—his transformations, however disastrous, never go without a happy ending… (Eva Leung, August 2009) [Link to full review]
… Throughout the book, his characters’ fantastic shape-shifting becomes a nerdily extreme disguise that allows the author to expose all-too-human vulnerabilities.
Cho’s wry word play is amusing, and the pop culture references bizarre, but the storylines are comfortingly familiar. This funny, moving take on the personal memoir is well worth dipping into. (Melissa Cranenburgh, 5-18 May 2009, p. 41) [Link to full review]
… While all writers draw their inspiration from somewhere, I was disturbed that Cho drew so heavily on well known movies as points of reference in his writing. Why couldn’t he draw more on his own imagination? The blur between apparent fact and fiction left me feeling disoriented; I was happy to be entertained, but as the reader, had I become the butt of the joke? (Edwina Harvey, No. 81, October 2009) [Link to full review]
… Through the careful crafting of 9 years work, Cho’s debut book of 18 short stories blends cheeky, rebellious humour with philosophical introspection exploring themes including family, sexuality, language and desire. The author not only references popular culture, but literally inserts himself into it… Cho unsettles ‘classic’ white, hetero narratives to expose their monopoly in popular culture as unrepresentative, untruthful and unnatural… Cho has accomplished a piece of work that will surely stand the test of time. (Lian Low and Raina Peterson, 16 May 2009) [Link to full review]
This is a playful collection of stories, linked by the unique voice of the central character. The title is a clever play on the 1989 movie Look Who’s Talking, and many stories pay homage to aspects of the 80s… These are not just well-written, humorous stories though – there are many reflections on identity… (Annie Condon, 23 April 2009) [Link to full review]
Look Who’s Morphing is a humorous collection that breaks rules and gets away with it… In a lot of the pieces, the narrator is referred to as ‘Tom Cho’ and due to the extravagance of some of the stories; the pieces can come across as Tom living out some his fantasies… The weaker story in the collection, in my opinion, was the final story, ‘Cock Rock’… the main thing was that the gender politics of the final piece were quite questionable, and I was uncomfortable with the way the character acted. The problem being that when a character is presented as the author it can lead to readers attributing the character’s behaviour to the author as well – but I’m not so sure that that’s a fair statement to make. (13 September 2009) [Link to full review]
… The standout was ‘Cock Rock’, the conclusion to the book, that was as weird as any other story in the collection. It was self-indulgent reveling in fantasy. In rock-stardom, power, size, sexual conquest and self-bestowed god-hood. But, throughout this story, it’s obvious that Cho knows all this and is convincing you to come for the ride anyway. And you do… So is (my) short-story curse broken? Not even close. I don’t want to pick up any more short-story collections. What if they’re not as good as ‘Look Who’s Morphing’? Could I stand the disappointment? (S.F. Winser, 2 Jan 2010) [Link to full review]
… The book, in my opinion, is best read without analysing its content too much. It’s humorous, and Cho’s experimental style is fresh and inventive. The striking cover, with a photo of Cho dressed as what we learn to be Fonz from the sitcom Happy Days, with pink blood oozing from a gash, makes it clear that the book, in spite of its numerous metaphors and references, is not meant to be taken too seriously… (24 July 2009) [Link to full review]
Sydney Star Observer and Southern Star
Local writer Tom Cho’s collection of outlandish short stories make for engaging, exciting reading. They say you can never judge a book by its cover, but in this case, you can: Cho’s produced a book every bit as wonderful as his striking front cover would suggest. (Nick Bond, 27 May 2009 and 4 June 2009)
Reviews on GoodReads
You can read reviews and post your own review of the book here on GoodReads.