( A Book Review of Nine Supernatural Stories edited by April Timbol Yap and Lara Saguisag )
Pushing the cobwebs aside and giving an old-timer a modern spin, Nine Supernatural Stories, published by The University of the Philippines Press in 2005, edited by April Timbol Yap and Lara Saguisag, “hopes to tell a different sort of supernatural story to show a wider spectrum of the genre than is generally known.”
Gathered within the pages of this slim anthology are stories — some of which appears in this collection for the first time — seeking to give the supernatural, besides its synonymity with ghost stories, a varied facet, a breathe of new life. Unlike the usual yarns told by our grandmas when we were just wee lads, these stories feature a diversity of style, settings and spirited writing, yet still infused with characteristic home-grown elements and local lore.
Following are the stories included in the supernatural anthology side by side with my thoughts on each of them:
- Beggar of Description by Adel Gabot — everything is not as it seems as the first story in this volume sets out when on a bleak, rainy day a beggar hitches a ride on a jeepney and causes an unusual commotion. Gabot’s picturesque writing has the power to transport the reader in the familiar, drizzling weather (I could almost feel the steam coming out from the passengers inside the jeepney as I read) even when read in the middle of a sultry climate building up to a dénouement nothing short of miraculous.
- The Impossible Life and Loves of Doc Dwende by Angelo Lacuesta — an amusing and memorable story told from the point of view of a dwende. Lacuesta’s lyricism and depiction of a dwarf with magical powers of healing in an affecting light and an almost human yearning for love definitely won me over.
- Ghosts of Infinity by Emil M. Flores — this is one story I instantly like from the word go (mainly because I like how the title sounds), featuring Arturo Ganigan, NBI investigator, and his sidekick Barbara “Barbie” Benigno as they probe the bizarre disappearance of a university professor and the local TV personality’s connection to the “crime”. Flores delivers the supernatural in its action-packed best! It easily looks like a knockoff of the X-Files’s Fox Mulder-Dan Scully tandem placed in a Philippine setting, but once I reached the ending, I’m surprised I’m hankering for more. Maybe Flores can do a series of short story collection, and if luck pushes too far, a probable novel about the further adventures in preternatural crime of the two sleuths sometime in the future. I’ll be watching out for it.
- Firefly by Anna Felicia C. Sanchez — what’s with the fireflies and why does it follow Dennis everywhere he goes? Sanchez tells an eerie and haunting love story of subtle possession involving a third party not of this world.
- Street Corner by Carljoe Javier — it starts out as a typical ghost story about the spirit of a girl — killed by a road side accident who still lingers about the place where she died — out to settle an unfinished business. Javier gives an ambiguous ending to his tale making one think if the action of the ghost was motivated out of her devotion to the narrator or a two-way vengeance to the persons who may have had a hand to her doom.
- Abot-Talampakan ang mga Bituin sa Cagbalete by Vlad Gonzales — one of the only two stories written in Filipino, it also earns its distinction by virtue of its humor, yet isn’t at all out of place in this volume. The story gets weirder and weirder by turns it seems plucked from one of the episodes of The Twilight Show. As Gonzales suggests, in this story at least, life’s cheap thrills and petty ambitions can also be the stuff of horror.
- Sea Change by Virginia M. Villanueva — it appears much of the supernatural stories in this collection are set mostly in the island of Luzon — from its regional surroundings down to the concrete forest of Metro Manila. Villanueva breaks this implicit impression by setting her tale in Jolo, Mindanao bringing vibrancy to its locality as well as its culture through her prose. Again, the theme is about love, but this time it’s the other way around as it’s the human who seeks the affection from one enchanted creature from the sea. A second favorite among the bunch, Sea Change unfolds with an ocean-like calm and as it features the not often seen tradition of the Muslim’s rite of marriage.
- Pantasmagorya by Roel Hoang Manipon — the second story written in Filipino, it is the only one to be published first making its debut on a literary journal before its inclusion in this collection. Phantasmagoric in its telling (as the title apparently suggests), it narrates a man’s all too imaginative thinking while walking on his way home on a dark and lonesome road developing to a fevered paranoia that becomes his undoing. Too much intellect, it seems, causes harm.
- The Man Who Came Home by Robert JA Basilio Jr. — I will not spoil the fun by telling what’s the story is about, but just to be sure, you should look over your shoulder after you’re done reading this. Definitely, the editors saved the best for last!
Much as the content made good its promise in bringing the Philippine supernatural stories a contemporary and wide-ranging aspect, the only flaw I see in this anthology is the cover. I’m aware that this is a part of the UP Jubilee Student Edition sporting the same design, as with other books in the series, but frankly it doesn’t give the content justice: what does it supposed to mean? It fails to give that certain aura of the supernatural with its insipid, academic look; it doesn’t surprise me if it remains an underrated anthology until now (besides not being widely seen or circulated in bookstores, but that’s another point all together).
Despite this, Nine Supernatural Stories has the potential to tap today’s readers, and I highly recommend it to those who outgrew or want to venture out from our legends, folklores, and traditional campfire yarns to opt to try something “new” the local pop literature has to offer.
Book #57 for 2012
Published by The University of the Philippines Press
(Paperback, 2005 Edition)
Started: November 11, 2012
Finished: November 12, 2012