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The Evil Pangs of Love

Fourteen Love Stories
by Edited by Jose Dalisay and Angelo Lacuesta
University of the Philippines Press, 2004

LOVE -- in all its evil and glory -- is perfectly demonstrated in University of the Philippines Press' Fourteen Love Stories, edited by Jose Dalisay and Angelo Lacuesta. A follow-up to the successful One Hundred Love Poems, this collection assembles some of Philippine fiction's most memorable love stories. Fourteen Love Stories is a noble (though not exactly original) attempt to make these stories more accessible to the public. And while the editors could have chosen a more eclectic bunch -- "Dead Stars", 'The Virgin", "The Wedding Dance", and "Love in the Cornhusks" make the book feel as if it is an English-course textbook -- their intention to select stories "different from one another in their material, their approach, and their sensibilities" is well-meant. It is also delightful to see new, unfamiliar stories in this collection.

Despite the lack of originality in their choices, however, Fourteen Love Stories manages to be quite compelling. Each story narrates a different kind of romantic love at its finest. They may not promise a happy ending-happy endings depend on the sensibilities of the reader-but they are nonetheless effective and successful in their intent.

Paz Marquez Benitez's "Dead Stars", the first English language short story that was published in the Philippines, is so anthologized that it needs no further description. Kerima Polotan's "The Virgin" offers the most exciting, not to mention romantic, ending. "The Wedding Dance", by the late Amador Daguio, and "The Love in the Cornhusks", by Aida Rivera-Ford, are local fiction classics-bittersweet, painful, and memorable.

One of the standouts in the collection is Gilda Cordero-Fernando's "The Dust Monster." "A fantasy in more ways than one", Fernando relates the story of a bored housewife, whose domestic life changes when the "Dust Monster" suddenly appears to give her company whenever her husband is away, which is actually quite often. When the "Dust Monster" suddenly disappears when her husband returns, will the bored housewife get the sense of belonging and achievement that she deserves? Another excellent choice is Sinai Hamada's "Tanabata's Wife", Francisco Arcellana's favorite Filipino short story. Here, Cordillera folk life and Japanese beliefs mix to create this story of love that begins on uneven ground, and ends only to place them right back to square one.

Short but sweet (or bittersweet as the case may be) are Maria Fres-Felix's "Alma" and Socorro Villanueva's "How Could You Smile." "Alma", specifically, makes the reader feel a tinge of guilt. The character in her story -- a widower who engages in a relationship with someone much younger than he is-seems happy, but is it right? Is he happy? Are they really in love? Motives are not elaborated, but it doesn't matter-the readers should figure that out for themselves.

Luis Katigbak's "Passenger" tells how bus rides define and describe a failed relationship. Here, Katigbak writes: "There is an endless road somewhere, and on that road speeds a hand-me-down rattletrap bus on an endless trip, and somewhere near the back of that bus, you and I are snugly squeezed into one of the two-seater benches, with you next to the window and me next to the aisle, holding hands like schoolchildren, talking, occasionally, smiling at each other, looking like we will never go." Katigbak's prose hits the right spot, although this particular story lacks the imaginative narrative he is known for.

Fourteen Love Stories is a successful compilation, even with the very familiar stories that underestimate the reader (I am sure most high school and college students have read "Dead Stars", "The Virgin", and "The Wedding Dance" in their Philippine Literature subjects). It is a shame, too, that Lacuesta and Dalisay, two of the country's best writers, left out their own pieces of fiction -- Lacuesta's "Stigmata" and Dalisay's "Cameo", though not at all new (and not exactly just love stories), would have been excellent additions to this collection.

Still, Fourteen Love Stories is a good read, an excellent primer to the wonders of Philippine fiction. Just make sure you're not in the mood to fall in love when you read this.

Source: Review by Christopher J. Francisco (http://pinoybookreviews.fil.ph)


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