November 8, 2014

Shorts: Eliza Victoria's Fiction

One of my favorite local authors is Eliza Victoria. I first encountered her through her story contribution, Ana’s Little Pawnshop on Makiling St., in the Philippine mythology-inspired short story compendium Alternative Alamat, back in 2011. Her story was the very first one in the collection composed of stories contributed by various authors, and it was a perfect opening salvo to what I would later find to be an amazing book. After that, I read Eliza’s own short story collection, A Bottle of Storm Clouds: Stories, in 2012, and I was officially a convert.

I read three of her published works this year: Project 17, Dwellers, and Lower Myths.

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Project 17 had a 1984-ish feel to it, with a Filipino flavor. Set in the not-so-distant future, the novel is about Lillian, a college student who was looking for a babysitting job for the summer. She responds to the advertisement of a man named Paul Dolores, who needed someone to look after his younger brother, Caleb, who was suffering from a “schizoaffective disorder” and required help with his medication. While working for the brothers, Lillian discovers things about them that simply just didn’t make sense. She should have just minded her own business, but then there wouldn’t be a story now, would there?

The technological advances and science fiction concepts that were factored into this work were a welcome change from Eliza’s usual horror or mystery/suspense fares. Project 17 had the Zoners, Sentries, and Cleaners, among others, that are reminiscent of George Orwell’s futuristic (back then) 1984, and I loved how sci-fi elements were incorporated into the Philippine setting. As you read through it, you may even forget that this is a Filipino novel were it not for the mention of Bulacan, or Metro Manila, or other things and people that are distinctly local.

As with all works written by Eliza Victoria, I love how this was narrated, with special mention to the witty, oftentimes snarky, exchanges between the characters. I have always envied people who can come up with witty retorts when needed, and there is an abundance of that here, with Lillian and her friends.

Read in January 2014
Rating: ★★★★
Book Details: Brand-new, trade paperback from Visprint Publishing



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Dwellers is Eliza’s latest published work, and the book club’s book for the month. With this latest work, the author reverts to the preternatural, horror/suspense genre that she is more known for, and as always, did not disappoint.

Dwellers is about cousins Jonah and Louis, young men who have the supernatural ability to inhabit other people’s bodies. But they do not have absolute free rein where this power is concerned; they cannot just go and jump from one body to another at will. There were rules. And they had to follow the rules.

Possession (?) isn’t an uncommon theme in supernatural fiction. In Dwellers, and for Jonah and Louis, however, inhabiting other people’s bodies wasn’t for fun; it was a necessity. It was a last resort, justified only in worst-case scenarios. Moreover, there is an underlying story for their current predicament: a scandalous family history. As if that wasn’t enough, the personalities of the bodies they have inhabited appear to be suspicious in character. And what of that body in the basement?

If I were to be asked which Eliza Victoria book is my favorite, I would be quick to answer A Bottle of Storm Clouds. But Storm Clouds is a short story collection. Rephrase the question to which novel is my favorite, and this would be the answer: Dwellers. I love the writing (short, concise sentences, straightforward and effortless), I love the combined elements of mystery, supernatural, fantasy, and suspense, I love how I couldn’t put down this book because it totally captivated me from Rule No. 1.  I couldn’t wait to read more of this kind of books!

Read in August 2014
Rating: ★★★★
Book Details: Brand-new paperback, from Visprint Publishing

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I was looking for something short and quick to read for Halloween a couple of weeks ago and came across this early work, Lower Myths. It is composed of two short stories: Trust Fund Babies and The Very Last Case of Messrs. Aristotel and Arkimedes Magtanggol: Attorneys at Law.

Trust Fund Babies melded Philippine folklore and mythology with the modern-day Mafia, and I completely loved the result. It was fascinating, to say the least, to read about mythological diwata and mambabarang families in an all-out, do-or-die clan war, complete with an army of bodyguards, cold, hard cash, and a cache of arms at their disposal. Don’t forget that they have supernatural powers, these creatures.

On the other hand, The Very Last Case of Messrs. Aristotel and Arkimedes Magtanggol dealt with alternate realities, and even after I had finished reading it, I still felt a bit confused about which reality was which. My favorite part was the Balete Court, a memory of the younger Jason and his brother Kenneth from their childhood days in the province of Cagayan before they stayed in the United States for good. The “courtroom” drama was perfectly constructed, and the legal proceedings (and even the objections!) are as accurate and real as can be. As always, the story execution was simply flawless.

Read in October 2014
Rating: ★★★★
Book Details: Kindle edition

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Looking forward to the next book! 

2 comments:

Tin said...

Witty retorts fan, right here. Therefore, I will be adding Project 17 on my list. And A Bottle of Storm Clouds. Lahatin na. Hehe. :)

And I agree, the opening of Dwellers seizes you. :D

Monique said...

TIN: A Bottle of Storm Clouds is, so far, my favorite EV. Hope you'll like it! ;)