Posted by Marie on Friday, February 13, 2015 in british, fiction, filipiniana, penelope fitzgerald, review, short stories, tony perez
Oh, February. No time in the year can make someone assess the relationships in his or her life than in the so-called month of love. For me, the best way to celebrate February is to read a couple of books (of course!). These two anthologies focus on being human. And being human, it seems, consists of interacting with fellow humans. That can result to good things, bad things, pleasurable things, painful things, and stranger still - strange because this is where most humans naturally gravitate - a messed-up mixture of all four .
The first book is The Means of Escape, Penelope Fitzgerald's last, published posthumously. I had been a fan of Ms. Fitzgerald ever since I've read The Bookshop. I like the elegance of her language, and the deliberateness of her words. I had often wondered how long (how many revisions, changes, editing) did it took to write what A.S. Byatt, in her introduction called her "discreet, brief, perfect tales". I'm not so sure if I can call them truly perfect, but they very much seem to be. What I love about her stories is that they cannot be spoiled. You see, I like knowing the plot of a book first before plunging into it. If the book has interesting characters, good writing, and development that is not heavily dependent on the plot, I will probably still enjoy it to the bits despite knowing the story. While Ms. Fitzgerald's stories have interesting plots, it is the astuteness of her observations of the human heart and its interaction with fate that are the crux of her tales, and what ultimately made her stories brilliant.
The stories in The Mean of Escape are that - studies of the sensibilities and absurdities of human behavior, as well as about the natural order and randomness of our lives. There are stories about morality ("The Prescription", "The Red Haired Girl","Our Lives Are Only Lent to Us"), while some are about social judgments ("The Means of Escape", "Not Shown","The Likeness"). There are mysteries ("Desideratus","Beehernz"), light hearted ones ("At Hiruharama"), and even a zombie tale ("The Axe"). My favorite stories are "The Means of Escape" (who is escaping from where?), "The Red Haired Girl" (kindness can save lives literally), and "Our Lives are Only Lent to Us" (so maddeningly Catholic, so maddeningly Filipino).
The second book is Tony Perez's Cubao Midnight Express: Mga Pusong Nadiskaril sa Mahabang Riles ng Pag-ibig. It is part of his Cubao trilogy. The other one is Cubao Pagkagat ng Dilim: Mga Kwentong Kababalaghan, which I've read in college in between required readings for PI 100 (Life and Works of Jose Rizal) in the basement of the UP Main Library. I had loved Pagkagat ng Dilim for all the dread that it had gave me, and it had been in my wishlist ever since. The third one is Eros, Thanatos, Cubao: Mga Piling Katha, which I had never seen.
Cubao Midnight Express is about love. Not the “normal” one with a normal start and normal endings (i.e. the stuff romance pocketbooks are made of), but those that are unconventional. These are stories of “hearts that are derailed by the long train tracks of love” (gosh, I really suck at translating :-P).
Some of the stories are about people who become twisted because of failed love (the “First Trip” stories: “Tipanan” (Meeting) and “Pamamanhikan” (Courtship)). Some are stories about the absurdities resulting from people's search for love, sex, or both (the “Second Trip” stories: “Basted” (Busted), “Kaisplit” (Best Buds), and “Katalo” (Match)). And some are tragedies, as some love stories are wont to be, not just because it is eccentric or forbidden (“Balani” (Magnet), “Relasyon” (Relation)) because sometimes, even regular love will lead to a devastating heartbreak (“Ligaw” (can either mean ‘Wooing’ or ‘Lost’), and the story that distraught me the most, “Kirot” (Pain)).
Like Ms. Fitzgerald, Mr. Perez is also very much adept with his words. But unlike the former's elegance, Mr. Perez's language is gritty, grimy, and disturbing, like his muse, Cubao-by-night (to differentiate from her garish and commercial alter-ego, Cubao-by-day). We can see this adeptness in the repeating, disquieting chorus of "Pamamanhikan", the torturous English of "Basted", the colorful curses of "Katalo", and the empty idioms of "Relasyon". But my favorite story is his one of his more simple tales. As told in the point of view of a dog, "Kirot" tells of a love that is simple but true, unending and loyal - qualities that made the inevitable heartbreak so much more painful. But a dog does not know that he is heartbroken, only that he vaguely know that something is frightfully missing. The stories in the anthology, is like that - alarming in one form or the other, but each is beautiful in its own way.
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