Ghost Stories Through the Night
( A Book Review of Afraid: The Best Philippine Ghost Stories edited by Danton Remoto )
It was on a dreary afternoon on All Soul’s Day, November 2, just as dusk approaches, when I decided to put the book I’m currently reading aside for two weeks thence, and choose something more fitting this season of spooks as well as for my first book for the blog’s monthly reading scheme, November 2012: Ghoulish Reads.
Perhaps, it was my longing to hear or read tales of ghost encounters in the Philippine setting that I chose to pick up and crack open the slim volume of Afraid: The Best Philippine Ghost Stories to accompany me well through the night — or by whatever presence that was with me when I read alone in my room.
Edited by poet and essayist Danton Remoto, Afraid may look and sound like it belongs under the True Philippine Ghost Stories series published by PSICOM at first, but that’s where similarities end. The stories to be found in the not-more-than-a-hundred-pages anthology range from the ghost of a couple still occupying the house of their dreams, a bizarre seller who peddles an equally odd piece of vintage photograph, people haunted by the ghosts of their past, houses with their own grisly histories to tell, to urban legends and accounts of disturbing happenings around the university vicinity.
In his introduction, Remoto claims why the tales in this collection can be deemed the best is because “these stories are told in well-written yet accessible prose.” Infused in the rich Filipino oral tradition, each piece is comparable to ghost stories no different from those recounted by some friends or relatives who experienced them but exhibiting a certain skillful and quality of storytelling — which is no surprising at all given the contributors are writers in their own right, esteemed in the country’s literary landscape.
To say whether the tales in this thin compilation are scary is another story in itself. I think it may well depend on a reader’s threshold of fright. Afraid may have fall short of giving me the heebie-jeebies, nonetheless, it’s not that bad all together — even though some of the pieces can be downright predictable — for plot execution carry the day (or night, rather).
Two of my favorites in the story collection are The Portrait by Jose Ma. Espino and Really, A Ghost! by Carlos Bulosan. Espino demonstrates some of the simple yet effective techniques for a continuous development of suspense that truly delivers the intended chill factor, while Bulosan’s wry humor (yes, this one made me laugh) as seen from his other short fictions, most notably My Father Goes to Court, gave a local folktale a striking patriotic twist.
Afraid: The Best of Philippines Ghost Stories is an entertaining read, presenting some of the finest in writing skills the genre could offer following the tradition of the Filipino’s fascination for tales about spooks and phantasms, stories whispered in the dark, told in the silence of the evening. It has certainly helped me made it through the night, with nary a scream.