Saturday, January 31, 2009

Reviewing the Philippines Free Press Fiction January 2009

The Philippines Free Press, a century-old weekly periodical, is one of the venues where local fiction gets published. Back in 2008, I was planning to read a lot of their fiction, but somehow along the way, I got sidetracked. So this week, I found a stall that actually sells the magazine on a regular basis (you'd be surprised that occasionally, it's really difficult to procure a copy) and decided to, well, actually review the stories featured.

The first issue for the year should have been January 3, 2009 but I couldn't find a copy then and I underwent surgery a few days later so that's not covered in January's summary.

January 10, 2009 - "Grace" by Eric Melendez: Melendez goes for a conventional domestic realism story here and shows that he's competent when it comes to the fundamentals. Everything is balanced here, whether it's the setting, the characterization, the descriptions, or the plot. Perhaps the highlight here is the juxtaposition of the events taking place at the neighbor's and that of the narrator. Even the ending is carefully crafted as to not be heavy-handed. Overall a good story although perhaps it's too vanilla for my tastes to stand out.

January 17, 2009 - "Penny Blacks in Storage" by Catherine Batac Walder: Walder starts out strong with a promise of excitement and mystery. There's a lot of good exposition here, enjoyable to read as it's fused with the conflict of the story. There are even interesting telling details, such as the woman who was robbed of her fake earrings more concerned with the fact that they were fake rather than being a victim of theft. Where it ultimately falters however is how one feels that the story is too contrived. For example, we have an educated and seemingly well-to-do protagonist who lives in what seems to be a slummy condo. Much of the mystery revolves around a woman named Deborah who, aside from being a foreigner, happens to eschew email in favor of handwritten letters. Then there's the villain, a Mr. Carangal, whose life story is conveniently narrated early on by the caretaker. There's an allusion to the mystery genre and the protagonist takes into consideration the "booboos in detective series" and unfortunately, Walder seems to commit those very mistakes. And don't even get me started with the conclusion. Walder has her moment of genius as far as technique goes since the ultimate culprit is never mentioned explicitly but rather someone Filipinos can infer. However, the proposition is preposterous and I wasn't convinced. That perhaps sums up what I felt wrong about the story: it's a pseudo-mystery that wasn't convincing, even when it came to the threats upon our protagonist.

January 24, 2009 - "Autos" by U. Eliserio: Honestly, this story lacks the fine polish that would have made it, well, excellent. Eliserio juggles several fancy ideas and there's a certain backbone to them but it's the details that falter. For example, there's the language and the inelegant repeat of the word buried in the same sentence: "With our house burned down and my mother buried, my father took me to our province, Iloilo, and buried himself in politics." Another example of the lack of elegance is the line "In college I met a girl, a woman, a lady, named Mildred." The use of what seems to be synonyms isn't justified in my opinion. There's also the inconsistency of pronouns. Whereas the narrator is consistently referred to as a he in the rest of the story, the author falters in one line: "But the mark of an adult is her discovery of a best friend for life." There's the lack of preparation for some reveals in the second to last paragraph that should have been present early on in the story, such as the fact that the protagonist is a hermaphrodite (which explains what seems to be an erroneous scene earlier). This seems like the perfect story to workshop as the flaws are clearly evident and if they were remedied, would have made this at the very least a story that stands out in a positive way. Eliserio after all does create a compelling character in the hermaphrodite pyromaniac who thrives in what can be best described as Philippine politics and culture.

January 31, 2009 - "The Puppy Years" by Nikki Alfar: This piece can be deceptive as while it's told from the point of view of the youngest child in the family, this is really the story of all the siblings. Where Alfar excels in is the characterization. Despite the D naming scheme (Dom, Denise, Dennis, Derek, Delphine), there's really not much confusion as each personality stands out. We know for example that Derek is the responsible older sibling (although he isn't without his flaws) and Denise is this bratty and vain woman. There's even a wondrous consistency going on with the narrator as she initially thought she was an adopted puppy and later on in the piece, this "monstrosity" recurs as she's forced to play the roles of Chewbacca or The Beast (from Beauty and the Beast). There are also lovely scenes which remind you of one's childhood and the second to the last scene was touching. Overall however, much like "Grace," this type of fiction really isn't my cup of tea and while it's certainly competent, isn't memorable.

Oh, and if you're looking for speculative fiction stories, none of these stories could be classified as such. "Penny Blacks in Storage" however was a mystery while "Autos" easily fits under the crime genre.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hey Charles. Eric M here. Thanks for the review! I've just joined the Free Press team by the way, and will be writing the music counterpart to Adam's lit column. Next ish lalabas una ko. So, yeah, tuloy ang shake up sa FP.

Thanks ulit. Be seeing you.