Many of Arlene Ang’s poems in Banned for Life take offense when confronted by the harmless and the mundane. This tendency for cultivating menace fromMany of Arlene Ang’s poems in Banned for Life take offense when confronted by the harmless and the mundane. This tendency for cultivating menace from what should have been otherwise deemed innocent and safe is also apparent in her previous poetry collections. Being a longtime reader of Ang’s poetry, I have marveled at this predilection of hers. It is what draws me to her work. Knowing this, I am proposing a practical way to read Banned for Life and interrogate its motivations. It would be to first acknowledge Ang’s compulsion to make splendid mutations out of the oftentimes unyielding meat of the ordinary. From a poet whose early poems volubly speak of homicide in the unexciting act of preparing vegetables, Banned for Life is a fully realized exhibition of traumas, threats, and all manners of dead bodies—literal and figurative....more
This anthology contains my story "Leviathan," which looks into one brilliant and prestige-hungry character's obsessive search for a marine creature loThis anthology contains my story "Leviathan," which looks into one brilliant and prestige-hungry character's obsessive search for a marine creature long believed to have become extinct sometime around 400 million years ago. A remnant of the Silurian Period, a time in the geologic past characterized by the proliferation of jawed fishes, the creature was ultimately found, died as a result of its being captured, and was posed as a trophy before the scientific community--emblematic of a major scientific discovery obtained at a cost, a loss of life.
An offshoot of a 2003 microfiction anthology edited by Noelle Q. de Jesus, Fast Food Fiction Delivery, which had the poet Mookie Katigbak-Lacuesta co-editing with Noelle Q. de Jesus, is my first look at how Filipino writers (with the exception of American writer Tim Tomlinson of the New York Writers Workshop, who also contributed a story) handled this particular fiction-writing style. I enjoyed reading most of the stories in Fast Food Fiction Delivery. They introduced me to some talented Filipino writers whose names I haven't heard of but whose books and new work I would now be on the lookout for (like Daryll Delgado).
Occasionally, I read some flash fiction pieces that just did not do it for me. They stick out with their mess of surgical staples and non-absorbable sutures alongside those that showed polish in their seamless laser sutures. Majority of the ones in the former category had one thing in common: predisposed to self-indulgent over-intellectualizing on an otherwise mundane object/emotion/event (such as a wedding, a shirt, a color, a house, lust, romantic feelings—there were a number of stories that hinged on the latter, and they were more of the “poetic” thoughts of a jilted lover or some other variation of this persona).
There’s even a first-person story about writing. Its pretentiousness and navel-gazing made it too painful to read. This is only its first sentence:
“The night we met, I have been thinking a long time about those words, about writing them down at a beginning of a sentence, and now that I have written them down at the beginning of this sentence I realize I still do not know how the rest of the sentence beginning with those words should go, how I should go on writing the sentence beginning with those words.”
The piece went on and on like this, dripping with affected loftiness and juvenile existential angst. It appropriated Latin and repeatedly used phrases like “bifurcations and interpolations,” terms I vaguely remember from college math, as it went about emo-ing the self-absorbed narrator’s “issues.” There may be emotional gravity in this story, a subtext I missed, something crucial that I was unable to grasp. If so, it would be nice to read someone else’s take on this piece.
As for my favorite stories in Fast Food Fiction Delivery, here are some of them:
“The Art House” by Daryll Delgado is a fine example of leveraging flash fiction’s brevity to effectively create tension.
“Seed” by Mariel Q. de Jesus, which told of a family’s hardship in getting a “perfect harvest,” is fascinating. I love this piece for its subtle foreboding feel, like the world beyond the suffering family in the rural village was in some sort of an ecological upheaval where genetically modified crops trump their native counterparts. The arrival of the “company men,” who brought the seeds “guaranteed to produce perfect yellow ears of corn,” hinted at something far more sinister, that there’s more to the agricultural advantage that the family would gain by planting the seeds.
“Gravity” by Andrew Drilon, a well-written tale involving a questionable memoir, mortality, and a supposedly “closeted” narrator who saw beyond the “comforts [he] didn’t earn.”
“Polo” by Astrid Fontanilla, a story about a cash-strapped man who wanted to do something special for his birthday, touches on materialism and melodrama-free optimism of the lower socioeconomic class. It begins with a powerful first sentence: “When Erning learned that his entire monthly salary of PhP5,619 was just the price of one of his boss’ shirt, he decided to buy one.”
“Shouldn’t It Be Funny” by Marc Gaba, an unfunny tale that followed a couple’s attempt to get rid of an elephant they did not “have the acreage for.”
“Early Reports of Mana” by Paolo Enrico Melendez is black humor involving the biblical manna. This piece is my top favorite, and it comes with a wild, engaging proposition: there’s a rain of manna whose flavor varies depending on the person who samples it.
“The Apartelle” by Danton Remoto deftly explores working-class urban life and the quirks of a television-show-obsessed generation through crisp dialogue and able storytelling.
“Lost and Found” by Gene Tamesis, Jr. offers a glimpse of a modern family’s woes.
“From the Log Book of Cougar Security Guard #344, Renato Hamantoc, Stationed at Gate 2 of White Rock Village” by Budjette Tan, a ghost story told via time-stamped entries on a log book. Interesting structure.
“Stories from the City” by Eliza Victoria is a vignettes-in-a-vignette of splatterpunk.
I noticed that stark realism is very much present in Fast Food Fiction Delivery and is used by several Filipino writers to examine poverty, urban life, etc. Genre trappings and magic realism are also very much alive. All in all, the anthology has something for everyone—a fair amount for the chicklit-inclined, some pieces that would appeal to people who just want a quick and easy read while relaxing, and some stories that would fit right in with people who are familiar with well-written flash fiction that demonstrates sophistication and ambition. I love the fact that flash fiction is getting attention in my country and am proud to be in the same book with the likes of Delgado, Remoto, Melendez, etc. ...more
Pithy yet intricately constructed, the ten prose poems in Kristina Marie Darling’s Night Music tease restlessness out from the clutches of a nighttimePithy yet intricately constructed, the ten prose poems in Kristina Marie Darling’s Night Music tease restlessness out from the clutches of a nighttime lull. There’s “The Homecoming,” a study of sound and colors backdropped against nocturnal intrigues. The epistolary “Dearest V.,” evokes the quaint feel of Victoriana and old Hollywood, while “Cantatrice” bristles with surrealist trappings. Gloom in “Ennui” is put forward as convincingly as:
“Since our guests left for the ocean, with its dark enclaves and its low mumbling, the lakes have done nothing but rain. And our dim halls become more cavernous with every evening...” ...more
The bleak and searing tableau that is Meg Tuite’s short story collection, Bound by Blue, skillfully navigates the emotionally fraught structure of humThe bleak and searing tableau that is Meg Tuite’s short story collection, Bound by Blue, skillfully navigates the emotionally fraught structure of human relationships. In story after story, the broken, the dysfunctional, and the scarred survivors prove to be at their most eloquent. They breathe in and out their anguish, putting on display what’s left of their embattled lives.
The book’s main ethos is articulated in the opening sentences of “Break the Code,” a powerful story about a woman coming to terms with the death of her mother.
There is something about an unbroken line that makes me want to rip it apart. All horizontal and level and yet one hit of acid and I detect only ripples, bending, rigorous expansion that doesn’t speak the language of the linear.
The same drive to rip apart “an unbroken line” is what fuels most of the stories in this collection, where even the most mundane of human relationships are shown to be rife with inherent disarray. The same can be said for Tuite’s novel-in-stories Domestic Apparition (San Francisco Bay Press, 2011). Bound by Blue is also peopled by classic Tuite characters—characters that were stunted, occasionally made lean and resilient, by their darkness.
“The F Word,” a deftly told tale of how past traumas don’t ever disappear, is the story of the couple Bob and Audrey, who are both beset by their own respective demons. In what can be misconstrued as an attempt to impose order in an otherwise disorderly life, Bob obsessively measures the ingredients he puts in while cooking dishes for the bulimic Audrey. The titular story, “Bound by Blue,” revolves around the exploits of the irreparably broken Edward, who was sexually abused by his mother, while “The Healer” takes on a tormented character’s search for a Brazilian healer, who was featured in a magazine she happened upon at the dentist’s office. The latter story, a hope-filled redemption quest, finished off the collection—a most telling gesture at the end of a succession of stories that unflinchingly tackled alienation, bitterness, and despair. ...more
The stories in Justin Ker’s The Space Between the Raindrops deftly capture and unravel both the off-kilter and the meditative. In “Portrait of a Girl,The stories in Justin Ker’s The Space Between the Raindrops deftly capture and unravel both the off-kilter and the meditative. In “Portrait of a Girl, Reading,” a revelation is teased out of a completely forgettable sight involving a girl reading a novel at the back of a bus. The intriguing and delightfully absurd “The Bed Thief” raises the specter of alienation, while “Julia Sets” echoes longing. Ker’s stories are robust and keen. I thoroughly enjoyed this book....more
I love how the five stories in Don’t Tease the Elephants do not shy away from confronting harsh realities. There’s the story of a father who discoversI love how the five stories in Don’t Tease the Elephants do not shy away from confronting harsh realities. There’s the story of a father who discovers that his teenage daughter had become pregnant and subsequently had an abortion. There’s the story of a family house burning down, the estrangement of family members, and their hope for a new beginning. In every story, Jen Knox deftly weaves in a little bit of darkness along with startling flashes of beauty and insight. Don’t Tease the Elephants is a handsome sampling of wry, poignant stories that illuminate the human condition....more
The boldly imaginative Bald New World follows Nicholas Guan, a military type tasked to digitally touch up scenes of carnage, in his misadventures fromThe boldly imaginative Bald New World follows Nicholas Guan, a military type tasked to digitally touch up scenes of carnage, in his misadventures from Korea to a futuristic California and in his frenzied dash from Gamble Town to China. The novel tells of beautifully flawed characters, the blurring distinction between reality and virtual environments, the comical yet chilling wave of religious fanaticism, and a world battling a strange malady called the Great Baldification, an ingenious symbol of human vanity. Peter Tieryas Liu’s Bald New World is vivid, exhilarating, and wildly entertaining...more
From the underwater treasure hunt in Riptide to the Quivira expedition in Thunderhead, and without counting their awesome series of Agent Pendergast nFrom the underwater treasure hunt in Riptide to the Quivira expedition in Thunderhead, and without counting their awesome series of Agent Pendergast novels, Preston and Child have long perfected the machinations of a great commercial novel. The Ice Limit, with its giant meteorite and being-chased-and-fired-upon-by-a-Chilean-destroyer-ship scenes, naturally makes for an entertaining read. The first casualty was a Filipino scientist, who got zapped by the giant red meteorite--which, for me, is a hilarious sociopolitical statement because Filipinos are probably going to not only want to touch a red meteorite but to see it through the national lens of superstition and religion. All in all, The Ice Limit is a spectacular romp that is only slightly marred by an ending featuring a failed attempt to channel cosmic horror. ...more
I read this in one sitting today. Then I realized that there would be no more new Michael Crichton books after I finish his other posthumous novel, anI read this in one sitting today. Then I realized that there would be no more new Michael Crichton books after I finish his other posthumous novel, and what a sad finality to have to finally read what Crichton was reportedly working on when he was battling cancer. Now I'll simply have to make do with rereading his previous books. The choice of Richard Preston, the guy who wrote the harrowing The Hot Zone and oh-yes-yes Cobra Event and whose pedigree includes being a brother to don't-get-me-started Douglas Preston of Preston/Child fame, to finish Crichton's book is perfect. Micro is classic Crichton, the quintessential man vs. natural world theme, the always man "vs." nature and not "with," a distinctive statement by Crichton, strong intelligent women characters, and lots and lots of infodump, which is always a good thing no matter what critics and writing teachers say. And if you are into infodumps, there's the mother lode, Arthur Herzog's Heat, dry as the paper it's written on but still manages to be charming. After reading Micro, I've learned numerous life-saving biochem techniques (viable or not) should someone shrink me to around half an inch in size while I'm having a great time in the middle of a forested area in a volcanic island like Hawaii. ...more