PALH Book Reviews

 

Review of: Exactly Here, Exactly Now, by Nadine Sarreal (Giraffe Books, 2000, Quezon City)

By Dr. Howard S. Collins

 

            Exactly Here, Exactly Now is one collection of short stories that I shall gladly recall having read. It is a small edition embracing ten stories, each of which is unrelated to the others in a variety of ways—be it plotting, characterization, mood, and especially philosophical intention. They are not an easy read, requiring careful attention to the author’s precise use of language, each word having been chosen to produce a harmonious link between both sound and sense.

            The average Filipino reader would undoubtedly gravitate to “Case 2183-93” and “Lakeside.” In the former Angela Cabading, age 26, goes to Hong Kong to work as a housemaid as have so many Filipinos, while “Lakeside” chronicles the frustrations of the better-educated who head towards North America to settle.

            Angela suffers at the harsh hands of a cruel mistress and eventually meets with the predictable rape. There is a black humor here which could evoke laughter were the situation not so true.

            On the other hand, there is no humor at all in “Lakeside.” Rather, the father and the mother, who are never given identifying names, have been in America for ten years, though they had originally intended that five years would be the maximum. Now they wish to purchase a Lakeside cottage for weekend enjoyment. This tale is told within a pervasive mood of nostalgia. They can’t go home to the Philippines, being too Americanized, nor will they ever be truly accepted in the U.S.A., a knock knock sound symbolizing their dilemma.

            “Exactly Here, Exactly Now,” the title story, concerns a pregnant mother who sees her marriage “in a tender balance.” The entire story is seen from her point of view in her fairly new role as a prospective mother. She is burdened with an excessive imagination regarding her suspicions of her husband’s infidelity. What must occur to make her adjust? It’s anybody’s guess.

            “That Dinner” is also about a marriage, almost a satire on the family relationship. It is a strange story in which silence rules; words are rarely spoken. Because Sarreal is recognized for her skill in the use of imagery, especially imagery of sound, her silence here can be quite disconcerting.

            Her gift for climbing into her characters’ feelings, particularly found in her poetry, has full reign in the prose of “Healer,” whatever those feelings might be. One of her longest stories, the plot is somewhat complex and what possibly prevents this story from failing is the author’s skill in describing the feelings of the compassionate healer, ending in his horrific howl.

            Feelings are also analyzed in “Rain.” A college professor in Baguio strives to get home from school to the comforts of home during the heavy rains in the aftermath of a typhoon. His survival instinct comes to the fore. He struggles against the rain dragging one foot after the other. Finally, he succeeds. He will not die. However his wife has recently died and finally he accepts death. The conclusion shocks, for the reader is left with an unexpected chilly image that tugs at his spine.

            Three of my favorite stories found in this collection are among the shortest. “Ivory” is one of these. Here the goal is to find out who was the husband’s secret love. Ivory’s frustration is she can’t easily do this for her husband suffers from a brain tumor and has very little sense of memory. These are ordinary people, as are most in this collection, who are caught up in bizarre situations that reveal their strengths and weaknesses. There are puzzles in this story as there are puzzles in the other stories. For instance, one wonders about the symbolic value of strawberries as presented.

            The strangest story is “Vimi in a Tree.” Not only is Vimi in a tree but she is totally naked. She is being pursued by a posse with dogs. Is this a kind of KKK experience symbolic of the cruelty in man? Possibly! All is a frenzy of noise and odors. To survive Vimi joins the dogs, she follows them, she lifts her head and howls. And so she saves herself from imminent death. How grotesque!

            My favorite story is “The Monkey’s Uncle.” Evidently the female in the story has fallen in love with a hunchback who has an “irregular countenance.” In her mind she wants to explain her infatuation but she holds back and in doing so she loses him.

            “What she wanted to tell him was simply

                        that if a person could be loved for his

            beauty, then it stood to reason that an-

                        other could be equally or, perhaps more

            intensely, be loved for the sheer rough-

                        ness of his looks.

Here is an ordinary person who loves in an unordinary way. In this story, we see new dimensions in the way we must look at the world around us, especially when we discard our conventions.

            In her story-telling Nadine Sarreal is not a conventional person. That is our good fortune. I look forward to reading the novel she has promised to write.

 

 

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