Sunday, November 23, 2014

"Dancing with a poem humming in your head"

There was one night when a man came in and bought a bottle of storm clouds. He claimed to be a poet. "I needed the rain," he said. "I couldn't write in this goddamn heat."
"What did he pay for that?" I asked.
"That's just a week's supply of storm clouds," Ana said, "so I only asked for six months of his life. I'm going to use that for my sunflowers. That way, they wouldn't wait for a long time--isn't that fantastic?"
I hoped the man wrote good poems.
Loss, I believe, is a theme in fiction that's difficult to capture resonantly in prose but authoress Eliza Victoria's anthology was essentially able to bottle it in a condensed volume that features sixteen tales ranging from horror, science fiction and fantasy. Curiously entitled A Bottle of Storm Clouds, the thematic bulk of Victoria's short stories is usually about losses and the dangerous and often pitiful coping mechanisms creatures of brevity such as ourselves can only cling onto in order to survive tragedies.

I can't even begin to describe the impactful deftness of Victoria's style. I once described her prose to be "Chandleresque" but this was more present in her novella Dwellers which was a supernatural mystery/psychological horror piece about cousins who can inhabit other people's bodies as vessels. In this volume, that same quality is still present but with less noir and more infused with fantasical inclinations, considering Victoria writes generally for the speculative fiction genre. This collection of hers, in my opinion, offers some of the best short stories I have ever had the pleasure to read.

We have her mediations on quasi-science fiction tales such as Intersections and Parallel which both deal with alternate universes and the repercussions of attaining the ability for dimensional travel. Other sci-fi pieces are Earthset and The Just World of Helena Jiminez, the latter of which was part of the Diaspora Ad Astra anthology I reviewed last month. We also have Night Out that tackles prostitution and homosexuality in a more futuristic setting. Victoria's writing is never delicate when telling these stories and I will not have them told in any other way. Nothing about her fiction is painless as it is a very earnest examination of the things that have the ability to destroy us.

Her horror stories can be both folklore-oriented such as Sand, Crushed Shells and Chicken Feathers and Ana's Little Pawnshop at Makiling St. or makes use of more metaphorical monsters like in An Abduction of Mermaids and The Storyteller's Curse. Even her fantasy has some grounded truth to them which can be found in her reimagining of the Cain and Abel biblical story in Reunion. Other times they can just be short and spooky such as the final story in the collection entitled Once in a Small Town which is I think under 500 words.

My personal favorites have to be the very first story I read from her (featured in the anthology, Demons of the New Year) named Salot; the surprising Sugar Pi about a highschool mathematical genius and his best friend on a quest to figure out the last digits of Pi; the satirical The Man on the Train which is a quintessential bereavement story; a deconstructed Aswang story called Monsters; and the enchanting Siren's Song that is probably the longest piece of the collection, and one that stayed with me in a blinding moment of terror and acceptance.

I once again recommend another accomplished Eliza Victoria book. I am so happy that I decided to pursue her writing after coming across Salot months ago. This is a very imaginative and memorable anthology of speculative fiction and, if you're a Filipino who can access this at your local bookstore, then you're missing out if you don't pick this one up soon!

* An impeccable, spellbinding volume that cuts and wounds

Thursday, November 13, 2014

"I am no bird. No net can ensare me"

Unlike the titular heroine herself, I would much rather be DIGNIFIED than HAPPY. I have that much pride and entitlement, and I admit openly that my autonomy and self-reliance were the most useful tools that kept me ever so hard and strong that you cannot break me--especially my heart which only cracks in some places but can be readily restored, more fierce than before. Reading this novel and Jane's story with her Mr. Rochester has brought me sheer, reckless joy and yet at times the deepest of sorrows as well.

They say the most unforgettable books we've read serve as a looking-glass where all our fears and desires are reflected back to us and we dare not flinch away from. Well, I gazed into Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre and saw again the first person I was ever in love with. The girl I loved with passion was simply called Lei who was only thirteen when we met while I was five years her senior. She was my Jane and I was her Rochester...and she was the only one in the world who had the capacity and good sense to truly break my heart.

Reading about Jane Eyre's childhood rife with alienation and spiritual defeats was like rediscovering Lei again who sought me out and bravely shared her tales of woe and whose youth has struck me to be such a queer thing because it surprised me to learn that she had been through so much grief at such an age. I instantly found myself enjoying Jane's company in her narrations for this book even with her imbued bitterness so unnatural for an impressionable little girl to possess because it was how Lei's own sorrow tasted during our conversations that could go on for hours on end. Sensible, modest and with a touch of vulnerability that can shame you, my Lei was a contradiction who doesn't even know it. Like Jane who always has a good head on her shoulders yet still dreams to rest it on the clouds, my Lei at was capable to claim a wisdom only reserved for adults twice her age and yet still she remains quite innocent, unknowing and willing to believe in impossible heroes. And I was her hero as Rochester was to poor, sweet Jane.

I should have known even then that stories like ours is ultimately going to be a rather tragic one.

As I continue on exploring and sifting through Jane's reveries, exultations and frustrations to untangle her deepening fondness and affection for her Mr. Rochester, its warmth began to sting me but I repeatedly placed my hand on top of it like I was a stubborn child playing with a candle, daring herself to endure the heat as if it's a worthy accomplishment to succeed in. It reminded me so cruelly of my Lei's infatuation with me which was a quiet sort of bliss that engulfed me before I even knew it had the power to cripple my every thought and breath. With enough distance but still quite bitterly acquainted with the feelings Jane is caught up in with Rochester (for I was at the receiving end of that not long ago and knew that it can be a persistent intoxication), I understood the attraction festering between them--its magneticsm, the loudness of it--and I'm embarrassed to admit now as I write this that I knew the effect its glow can have on someone of Rochester's proud and unyielding countenance because I share his indulgences and reservations if not his person altogether.

I knew Jane loved Rochester in a self-aware blindness that accepts readily even the faintest of flaws because that was how my Lei welcomed me; not just with loving arms but with an open mind that challenged me, intrigued me, enchanted me to pry it completely and solve it for myself.

And I knew Rochester loved Jane with a desperation he will never admit because I never had either until today. Rochester loved Jane for her youth which he believed he never had and therefore had always craved. He loved her for her strange ideas and the impressive ways she could still stand out to him even when she's being inconspicuous. He admired the skilled way she reads him when he had long ago believed he was indecipherable. I know these are the reasons he loved her because this was how I loved Lei. I didn't fall or stumble my way into feeling the way I felt for this girl--I decided it with a precision and intensity. Whilst Jane's love was gentle, patient and resilient, Rochester's was a fire that threatens to cauterize or devour, depending on his whim and the moment that would inspire it. I knew I must have exhausted Lei too but I poured everything into her knowing she will open her palms to catch every drop as Jane had with Rochester, her master, her Edward and hers alone.

And though independent and perpetually discontent as I was, I allowed myself to believed that I was Lei's.

I allowed someone to have me.

Like Rochester was with Jane I was always secure with her and never doubted her allegiance. I worship her in my own possessive way, giving her tokens, written testaments and poetry not to flatter her or limit her but to celebrate her as my chosen one, and she, like Jane, would feel abashed and think herself unworthy of the most grandeur of gestures. She would seek to temper my roaring passions with a brief kind word, to soothe my romantic trifles with the simplest yet the most elegant of ways. It was puzzling that she had given herself wholly to me yet will not suffer the immensity of what having me back would entail.

It's funny that her love like Jane's love does not burn hot but steadily flows like a cleansing stream, appeasing me especially in my darkest moods. Every time I read Jane instantly able to stand up for herself when Rochester unconsciously tries to overwhelm her, I think of the times when Lei held her ground against me. All she ever demanded from me is to be myself without exaggerating romance, fabricating my happiness, or testing the bonds that hold us together.

Jane expected this little from Rochester too because to her he was enough; no more, no less.

Rochester also believed Jane will understand him even if he was in his most unintelligible and unknowable and yet he had made terrible mistakes in life before and continues to doubt that he is someone made for love. I too had these moments of sheer self-loathing and disgust and I don't think I will ever let go of such harrowing self-deprecating notions. Nothing was sweeter than my solitude so I considered it such a miraculous development when I gave Lei permission to trespass and prove me wrong.

I did say that a love this contradictory is bound to be ultimately tragic and just like Jane, Lei had deserted me not to be cruel but to be responsible. To her it was the best course of action, the only possible way not to damn us both. She believed her sacrifice would make us happier in our separate existences, and I begrudgingly allowed her cold reason to prevail because I wanted to be dignified. What else does my woman of intellect and an ego that matches its size have to else to contend with? But I committed an omission of truth as well--I once again clung into that desperate belief that I was unfit for love and therefore unfit for her so I cannot possibly have any right to make her stay. She left because it was what I deserved. There is no doubt in my mind that Rochester welcomed these ideas too and that they cut him deep and true.

Alas, this wasn't the book review you wanted to read but I wouldn't rewrite it because this contains the testament of my cowardice and hope as reflected back to me by these two characters who resemble two people in my life I used to know, who dared themselves to love each other and partake in all the consequences it entailed. This is letter to the girl I once called mine, the one I gave five years of my life to until it came to its conclusion just earlier this year. I watched her grow up and, subsequently, outgrow me.

For my part I have never felt older than when I was with her, and I liked that feeling; it gave me repose and made me think about my mortality more often than I should. It kept me alert then, unafraid to take on risks, reminded me that life in its brevity doesn't always require me to be dignified but rather to be happy, always more importantly, happy..

I suppose I should take comfort that at least, in this fiction, Jane Eyre and Edward Rochester had a happier and more enduring ending. And so I kiss this book with trembling lips as I close it, never to be opened again unless I feel particularly nostalgic and most humbled.

Its inarguable deftness in prose, and the intimate portraits of characters woven into each chapter have a savory quality to them which will surprise and move readers.