Siege Malvar’s Wasakang Wasak

In his fourth book, Siege Malvar went back to where he started: writing about the magical and the supernatural.

“Wasakang Wasak” offers three short stories that feel like a mix of recreated narratives from contemporary American fiction, Filipino komiks, pop culture, and the realities of Manila living. One theme, however, weaves the stories together into a collection: sex.

“Ang Kama ni Stella,” is about a man-eating bed. Previously we’ve heard about vaginas with teeth and deities with vaginas that expand so wide they can swallow men. This is another welcome version of the story. Woman of the world Stella feeds her bed with random horny guys in exchange with mindblowing sex from the bed itself. What makes this story a page turner is a passionate narrator that shamelessly mentions cocks, pussies, putas, and funny invectives in Xerex Xaviera fashion. The plot thickens until Stella gets her karma: meeting the man she’s willing to take seriously. How this karma unfolds is what the book is about.

“Ang Mutya ng San Isidro,” is reminiscent of Shirley Jackson’s landmark story, “The Lottery.” This time however, the setting is in a rural barrio, and the lottery turns into a beauty pageant. Ladies, including the protagonist Ruth, join the contest where the winner becomes a human sacrifice to ensure abundance of the community’s next harvest, along with the promise of a huge stake of this harvest for the winner’s family. In this story, readers are entertained primarily by the dialogues of the fag-hag duo of Ruth and Dindin, their statements filled innuendos, insults, bitchfits, and metaphorical references to pop culture.

Sandwiched in the middle of this narrative is an undeniable social commentary on the RH bill, with Ruth and Dindin engaging in a lengthy and didactic discussion on the catholic church’s staunch position against the legislation. Sweet at first, and annoyingly preachy in the long run, Mutya ng San Isidro could have been crafted better in a way where the pageantry and the RH commentary are tied into a clean and cohesive knot.

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Jack Sagrado’s The Pink Morgue

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Its fancy packaging makes it stand out from the pile of titles in the local literary section. Dubbed as “the Philippines’ first-ever collection of homoerotic mystery and suspense short stories,” the Pink Morgue offers the promise of supernatural, bizzare, creepy Filipino gay writing. Well, please forget the blurb. This book is as campy and as hilariously cliche as it can get.

Let’s have a rundown. In “Old Sapa,” a city guy goes back to the province and meets with his childhood sweetheart. In old horror movie fashion, he bumps into him during a cold, rainy night, engages in hot sex, and wakes up alone the morning after. Of course, someone tells him eventually that the sweetheart has been dead for a year.

In “The Pageant,” a gay couple tries to solve the mystery behind the murder of a gay beauty contestant in Sherlock Holmes-Dr. Watson narrative style. It’s so funny it feels like a journal homework for a basic creative writing class.

“Club Amontillado” is a tacky rehash of “The Cask of Amontillado” where matinee idol Paolo (Piolo Pascual?) Montressor kills blackmailing showbiz reporter (Cristy) Fortunato Fermin.

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Tara FT Sering’s Amazing Grace

The title is a bit off, especially if you’re an anti-religion, former Catholic school boy  freak who knows the song. But still, it’s a Tara Sering book, so it’s easy to assume that the title refers to the ‘amazingness’ of the protagonist whom the author named Grace.

Chick lits often give happy endings a.k.a. closing scenes of a wedding, a wet kiss, make-up sex, what-have-you. “Amazing Grace,” interestingly, does a feminist stance. The couple won’t end up with each other. And it’s not the woman’s fault.

To sum it up: Grace meets Mike (epitome of male beauty, as usual), the two become a couple, the relationship runs for two years, and then the conflict: Mike is assigned to Singapore. Before leaving, however, the guy proposes to Grace, giving her and the readers hope that there will be problems, but things are to end up fine. Continue reading

Andrea Pasion’s Have Baby, Will Date

The purpose of Philippine chick literature is to give readers cheap romantic thrills (“kilig”), and this is what Andrea Pasion’s “Have Baby, Will Date” practically does. The book brings you to the conio girl world of Denise, a hot and pretty (surprise!) freelance photographer purely surrounded by beautiful men. The story opens with Denise lying in a hospital bed, having just given birth to a baby girl she named Simone.  The delivery is a result of a one-night encounter with a guy named Coby who, based on the book’s initial description alone, is destined to become the protagonist’s ever-after guy.

The book plays on formulaic plots with enthusiasm that you have to give it credit.  Supposedly representing the empowered modern city girl, Denise initially declines Coby’s offer of marriage because, well, it’s just plain sex.  The protagonist’s best friend/sidekick Joanne does a consistent job in the book: she’s a mother who gives motherly statements. Joanne hates Coby at first, and as expected this will change as the guy turns out to be a keeper.

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Chris Martinez’s Our Lady of Arlegui

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Several literatures illuminating the conflicts and biases between Christians and Muslims have already been written, and Chris Martinez’s “Our Lady of Arlegui” provides a hilarious addition. The one-act Filipino play depicts the short but very memorable encounter between Rhett, a young Christian film geek, and Anisah, a 40-ish Muslim vendor of DVDs in Quiapo’s Arlegui Street. Rhett is looking for the classic film, “400 Blows” when an Optical Media Board raid ensues, which highlights the culture of “staged” hiding and creates a rationale for conversation.

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Bob Ong’s Kapitan Sino

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“Laman pa rin ng kalye si Aling Precious, tinitingnan ang bawat taong nagdadaan, hawak ang walis tingting pero wala nang winawalis. Maya-maya pa eh tinanaw ng aleng palawalis ang magkabilang dulo ng kalye, saka nangulangot, at tiningnan ang daliri: walang laman. Tinuhog ulit ang ilong nang pagkalalim-lalim (11).”

Bob Ong’s 7th book is not far from what he has written in the past, as the short novel presents a fascinating amalgamation of all the ideals that he has shored up in his former works. It touches on the search for personal triumph (ABNKKBSNPLAko?/Stainless Longganisa), the need to reform Filipino’s negative cultural traits (Bakit Baligtad Magbasa ang Mga Pilipino), the existence of God in relation to negotiating predetermination and creation of a personal destiny (Paboritong Libro ni Hudas/Mac Arthur), the supposed role of a citizen in his/her community and the need to form decisions with sense and wisdom (Alamat ng Gubat).

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Edgar Calabia Samar’s Walong Diwata ng Pagkahulog

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“Write what you know”, is a mantra that literature and creative writing professors tell their students. Edgar Calabia Samar takes this seriously by creating a character whose desires revolve around the realm of writing itself. Daniel, the hero of the art piece, discloses the chapters of the novel by being a storyteller that repeatedly shifts in voice, person, situation, and mood. Why do novel writers separate the “real” literary work from the “making” of the literary work when they can simply fuse and package them into one book? More, why do novelists need to think of a plot of the novel when the very “making” of the novel can pass as a great plot? Walong Diwata ng Pagkahulog is created by a writer who creates a main character dreaming to be a writer who formulates philosophies and employs narrative voices which he has learned from a dozen of other popular writers which the main character uses to imagine characters that he is imagining, or dreaming, to write. This project, this creation of labyrinths through playing with the scheme of “writer within a writer within a writer ellipsis” , is what makes Samar’s work a difficult read, if difficult means trying painfully to find “what The Author Samar wants to say” according to the conventional structuralist/beginning-muddle-end method of literary interpretation.

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