On Marianne Villanueva’s The Lost Language: Stories

This review only has to last during my thirty-minute break from research and homework. My scholarly and critical endeavors, on top of my assignments and the crap load of paper work at the office, I’m afraid, are really hurting this little but pleasant blog project of mine. So this will be short, shorter than what I want to be, because I swear to God that I am absolutely in love with this collection I just finished, and I feel it deserves much more from me as a reader.

At the risk of sounding like a fanboy and a geek, let me just say that I am in awe of the eleven stories included in Marianne Villanueva’s The Lost Language: Stories. I found each story to be beautifully tragic. I cannot recall a single one that I did not like, or a single one that did not occupy my mind, for at least a few minutes, just to drown in the immense melancholy and gravitas of what had unfolded, despite the incredible amount of work that I have to accomplish. And a lot of what had come to pass in the stories still bother me up to this very moment, which I think, is a testament to the sheer power of the stories that Villanueva weaves and publishes. In The Unruly Heart, the protagonist, Jocelyn, revisits her son’s death years ago and presents to us how the memory of the car accident continues to haunt her, continues to inhabit every minute of her pointless existence. At the death of her only child, she had become lost, a mere ghost of what she was. Even if the woman who caused the accident was put in jail for what she did, she found no retribution or no justice, and no reason to go on. We are given here a reanimated figure of what she was. And then something amusing happened. The woman who took Jocelyn’s son away from her is released from prison. Finally, after years, she feels compelled to visit the woman, who now has readjusted to life after the car crash. In Restraining Order, a woman obsesses over the husband who had left her for a woman, a fellow Filipino, who she had helped once upon a time to get her life straightened out. Like the woman in Villanueva’s other stories, she too has lost herself and descends to become someone that only resembles her. The story takes in the form of a letter, a statement, required by an officer, before the protagonist can file a restraining order against her husband and her new and younger lover. In My Mother’s Courtship, a son narrates the courtship which happened between his mother and his father in the hopes of trying to make sense of how her mother eventually cheats on his father with her Chinese professor, and how that shunned union gave birth to him. In Alex, the longest in the collection, we are presented with George and his recollections about her gorgeous and flirtatious officemate, Alex, and how, in the course of her stay in where George worked at, she has been able to destroy so many lives and how she has pushed people to alter the way they live and the way they perceive the world.

It was the first time that I actually encountered a collection by Marianne Villanueva. Although I was already quite aware that her previous collection had been a finalist for the National Book Award, I had no idea that these stories would be so captivating. Certainly, I knew that the manner in which she would tell her stories would be marvelous. And as expected, her language was elegantly simple, warm and exact, precise, accurate, even in the coldest of scenes, even at the lowest point of the characters in the stories. And since I knew that she currently resides in San Francisco, I knew that I could at least encounter that feeling of displacement brought about by migrating to a foreign land, and I saw that, that longing, the effort of her Filipino characters to attempt to turn the land they found themselves in just like home, as comforting as home, as similar as possible to the land that gave life to them. But I hadn’t prepared myself to the deluge of emotions that crashed unto me upon reading. I had not anticipated it would be so melancholic and so affecting. These stories of loss are heartbreaking, absolutely heartbreaking, wretchedly saddening, reflecting the perpetual state of men and women, the state of loss, that fear of defeat and failure that constantly dwells comfortably in our minds and in our hearts, and the irony that each and every one of us depends on this fear to survive.

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5 thoughts on “On Marianne Villanueva’s The Lost Language: Stories

  1. For the longest time I’ve been meaning to thank you for this review of THE LOST LANGUAGE. Now I finally got around to doing it. You really put the wind under my wings, there! Thank you!

    And also, you should hang out with Paolo b/c his group (Filipino Book Bloggers) is so lively and fun.

    • Hi Marianne, Thank you for stopping by and for that wonderful collection that really left me in awe. I’m eagerly looking forward to future stories and publications.

      I actually saw you last year, in Cebu, during the Philippine PEN Convention, but I had no idea that you came across my review, and I was too shy to introduce myself. I was one of the guys seated in front, the one with the brown jacket and the spiky hair. Funny that when you mentioned that you came across several blog posts about your collection, my girlfriend (the adorable girl who kept time and warned everybody that they only had five minutes left) teased me that maybe you were talking about the review I made.

      I should definitely hang out with Paolo and the rest of the Filipino Book Bloggers. I hope I can meet them during this year’s Manila International Book Fair. Thanks again for stopping by and I wish you well. 🙂

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