Thursday, February 26, 2009

Reviewing the Philippines Free Press Fiction February 2009

Unfortunately I couldn't find a copy of the February 21, 2009 issue (if one was ever released).

February 7, 2009 - "Soulkeeper" by Arvin Mangohig: There's a certain rawness to this piece but it's evident that this is where the author's passion lies. This would have made for a good character-driven story if not for two flaws. The first is that early on, the author is clearly trying to grasp synonyms for the word darkness, which I felt was overused, and fails. The second and more glaring problem is the plot hole that revolves around the premise. As evident from the title, there is some trading of souls and in the exposition, and there are consequences for losing your soul. Unfortunately, this fact is inconsistent with the grandmother character who supposedly lost her soul a long time ago. And Arvin Mangohig fails to be convincing when the said character also tells the protagonist that she can't help him find the correct bottle. Aside from that, this could have been an interesting and complex story but it's still rough.

February 14, 2009 - "The Naming of Cats" by E.K. Entrada: The first two paragraphs of the two were entrancing as Entrada weaves the most beautiful scene of nostalgia and appreciation for a book. Unfortunately, my interest stopped there the moment I realized where this story was heading. As far as technical skill is solely concerned, there's not much to criticize against Entrada. In fact, I'll praise her for her apt descriptions. What I disliked about this story was the flow and characterization. Look, I have nothing against "America is imperialist" texts as long as it's convincing and well-written. This one however is transparent and lacks credibility. My foremost problems stems from the characterization. Our heroine, a plucky woman from the provinces who finds herself married to an American and living the American dream, is fleshed out and given ample background (the cliche aside). The rest however are cardboard cut-outs. It's never explained how her American husband fell in love with her. The students of her English literature class, and even the teacher, barely warranted a description aside from the color of their skin (a polarized white-and-black). You'd think that the protagonist's father--who is mentioned to disdain Americans (again, no explanation why, especially considering that during the flashback an American was kind to him and his daughter)--would warrant a further scene or two of conflict because his daughter married an American but this is conveniently omitted and merely present in the middle of the narrative to emphasize the Filipino-American tension. Please, if you're going to feed me Philippine nationalist drivel, let the characters be actual characters rather than convenient plot devices. Entrada could have mined the father-daughter relationship if she simply wanted to tackle the evils of America but no, we get this all-too contrived story that quotes T.S. Eliot.

February 28, 2009 - "Manong Uldo, vol. 11" by Dennis Andrew S. Aguinaldo: Dennis Aguinaldo attempts something unconventional by using the interview format as a framework for his narrative. He doesn't really do anything new with it although his prose is flawless. What's interesting is that the narrative stretches credulity in a good way, everything from a beggar begging for books to the method in which the interviewer compensates the interviewee. This was an entertaining albeit quick read and there's an engaging political lacuna thrown in for good measure if you're the type that's looking for social relevance.

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