Friday, March 15, 2013

On 'Fourteen Love Stories'

Whether we are its readers or writers, a love story is invested with many guilty pleasures. We remember our own lives, when we are lovers and had lovers. We imagine having the strength, or the weakness, to yield to the uncharted and the forbidden. We wish for a love to take us away from the reality of the present. We relish the encounter, taking it on with recklessness and youthful abandon. Our pulse rushes and our throats tighten. We feel a dull ache. The story takes us, and we fall in love, literary predilections be damned.

This is an excerpt from the Introduction of Fourteen Love Stories, an anthology of stories written by Filipinos. Its first featured story, Dead Stars by Paz Marquez Benitez, was our book club's "book/story of the month" for February and so when Bennard chanced upon a copy in NBS-Katipunan, he immediately bought it. I have read Dead Stars back in high school but since it's only sixteen pages long, why not refresh my memory, right? Besides, when we read a story a second or third time, we tend to find new details we might have overlooked the first time, or discover a new interpretation based on new experiences we've undergone since our last encounter with the said story. So I read it again and, true enough, I got to relive past emotions and more--feelings that were incomprehensible to my high schooler version who only thought of coming up with a reflection essay for English 2.

After finishing the first story, I decided to move on to the second. It was far shorter at six pages and since I got nothing better to do that afternoon, I gave Midsummer by Manuel Arguilla a try. You can guess that I liked it too since I eventually read all fourteen stories. It became my little commemoration of the love month and turned out to be Filipino literature appreciation. What rating did I bestow upon it? Five stars, no questions asked.

The stories were arranged chronologically, giving the reader a sense of traveling through time while witnessing the evolution of Filipino love--from conservative styles of courtship to forbidden love affairs. In the first stories, pastoral setting plays an important role as backdrop for these traditional love stories. There are also stories focusing on ethnic customs, showing how diverse we are as a people. One common ground among these earlier set of stories is how Filipinos are greatly intertwined with the community, submitting to (or in some other stories' case, undergoing some extreme contemplation before finally deciding against) society's norms even at the expense of one's own happiness.

Gilda Cordero-Fernando's The Dust Monster marks the start of the new age, with new style and new atmosphere employed. From hereon, stories are more modern, more influenced by Western tradition. Instead of the focus on setting and society, there begins an emphasis on the character itself and the meanings suggested by his/her most mundane activities. From earlier practice of wide viewpoint, the lens now zooms in and tries to capture the quiver of the hand or the drawing of a smile. From being old-fashioned and conventional, new liberal ideas now pervades--first move by the girl; illicit affairs; relationships which defy distance, age, and all social norms.

Reading this selection edited by Jose Dalisay Jr. and Angelo Lacuesta, I am overcome by a sense of pride that these great articles of work are written by fellow countrymen. All stories succeeded in evoking emotions and in making me stop a moment each time I finish one, to ponder and let everything simmer down.

My heart swelled with kilig when Jaymie and Ami of Weight spontaneously drove to Baguio that night, recognizing with unspoken agreement that they are not anymore mere coworkers or travel companions, but something far better.

My ears perked up as I eavesdrop on Katherine and German boyfriend Isaak's long distance calls, giggling like crazy at one minute, then slowly realizing my growing sadness the next--the clash of cultures between the two protagonists I am rooting for in the story Breathe can never be.

My mind wandered with the narrator of Passengers as he went down memory lane and fast-forwarded to futuristic possibilities of the multiverse--both of which involve him and his past lover happily together.

My whole body shook with the sensation not unlike that of getting stabbed in the heart as I watched with Lumnay the wedding dance of her husband, Awiyao, who is marrying off another girl because Lumnay can't bear him a child. What makes the pain more excruciating is the fact that Awiyao is doing it out of duty and the dictations of their tribe despite the love he still holds for Lumnay.

And to think those I've mentioned only comprise a part. I urge you to read it too and revel in the brilliantly written works of Filipinos and the spectrum of emotions they entail.

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