Blurbs for Z
A beautiful addiction, is what it is, reading Cesar Ruiz Aquino’s first novel Z for Short (Pawn Press 2021), certainly a long time coming.
Decades in the making yet bereft of a cast of thousands, the counter-novel is a sort of autobiography that creatively non-fictionalizes the writer’s life, if we may be allowed to borrow some dizzying terms from academe, from boyhood in Pagadian to adolescence in Zamboanga, young manhood in Dumaguete and Manila, then settling into adulthood in the last two aforementioned places only in reverse order, until turning into the inevitable old man and the sea in the port city where the “roads crawl on their bellies to the sky,” as a young poet once wrote in the late ‘70s before drowning in a northern beach.
One might argue that we’ve read parts of it before, piecemeal as it were, as serial essays in the counterculture magazine circa martial law Ermita, occasional essay in the odd number of Who magazine, Sunday Malaya or Veritas, as short-lived science column in Philippine STAR, as digression or extrapolation in Aquino’s first collection of prose, Chronicles of Suspicion, as found fiction in Midweek magazine (political weekly funded by the Netherlands-based Left mostly post-Edsa), as philosophical divination and wordplay in a story for Jose (literary magazine published by a Marcos era think tank).
Yet there’s poetry too, interspersed among the sections of recollections of autofiction or is it non-fiction (two non-fictions do not make a fiction), the novelist after all being primarily a poet, and the occasional verses an amplification or chorus or detail of the subject episode, zooming in and zooming out, all around the chico tree that sits outside the window like a child of the abat (goblin or bugbear in Visayan lore).
Let’s go out on a limb and say: the best novel written by a Filipino in English since Wilfrido Nolledo’s But for the Lovers, but that would not be quite honest, not having read that earlier novel in the early ‘70s published by a foreign outfit (seems to be the norm these days) in its entirety. Then again, come to think of it, neither have we Z, abandoning it in the last chapter of suspicious chronicles and excerpts from various authors (properly and duly accredited) on parallel themes of the dream and other, being and not being, fireflies galore if you can still see them and the drone of pedicabs in the city of gentle people, like waking from an imagined insomnia and discovering an antidote to reporter’s copy like dregs on the tip of one’s tongue, it was a tears of a joy.
Amazing how the novelist flirts with madness and insomnia, puns whether or not intended details of which could make your hair stand on end.
Maybe novels were never meant to be finished in their entirety, else the experience of a lifetime would end, or what you thought was half a lifetime would never end. Maybe they were meant to be abandoned in mid-sentence or mid-chapter, leave it hanging fire to the elements.
But not so with Z, not until the final section anyway. Meanwhile, the novelist writes that as a child he found comfort in inventing his own words, perhaps similar to the words another boy came up with in a game with adult writers in a porch in Dumaguete: uyuqa, agtona, besoso.
A family tree and then some are traced here, a few rather verisimilar persons we may have met or ran into on the street or corridors of university, phantom beauties, assorted addictions.
There’s an episode on so-called children of the abat, originally submitted for the anniversary of one newspaper then to a weekly magazine reeling from overhead and pandemic costs, but it’s likely the owners found it a bit weird, the story of a pseudo cult who played weeping and gnashing of teeth on a cassette recorder while doing their rituals in a rented room, and a subplot of a distant relation from Cebu crashing in with his drum sticks only to molest a minor house help in the district of gentle peepholes.
Amazing how the novelist flirts with madness and insomnia, puns whether or not intended details of which could make your hair stand on end if one has any left after being blown away by the electric ladyland phrasing, Tin Machine and Reeves Gabrels essaying heroes just for one day, a breakdown in local hospital in election year ’92, and the writer summoning his disciples to come near to hear whisper the word in a nutshell of distortion and blur, Miguelitito.
There’s interlude on the quite handsome nephew who years later becomes a pilot and dies in a crash, the last word he said being “terrain!” although he wasn’t at the controls at the time but his boss with chip on shoulder, sad comfort to the poet who once wrote that in his nephew’s hands may nothing fall apart or break.
Reviews really are foolish unless you read the book yourself, a word-for-word reproduction even if abandoned at end, Z for Short a gift of a novel or counter-novel in the solstice of pandemic and war.
The mother wracked by Alzheimer’s running naked to the gate in Taclobo, being alerted by the maid how the old woman made a go for it, sprinting away from a Lilia Dizon lookalike and a beauty title in a Mindanao town fair.
The affair with C. in an ad agency along Aurora Boulevard, the quick turns into motels driving past old boardinghouses and hangouts reeking of beer and memory, and his dropping by her apartment before heading back to the south on boat, the long goodbyes that can’t get any longer in the hands of a lesser poet, all he has left is her gaze through a bazaar window in Cubao, her heart bouncing among the curios and gewgaws on sale.
The lunchbreak sortie to a toro or live sex show in the bowels of Manila, and he makes eye contact with the woman being mounted by her partner on whose back is tattooed an image of a blue god.
The dogs Shazam and Aleph. The novelist’s unfound wife and their daughter Michelle.
Outside Luce auditorium with a rain of golden shower and maybe it’s just vertigo or the eyes of one who dropped the atomic bomb, wild is the wind, reviews really are foolish unless you read the book yourself, a word-for-word reproduction even if abandoned at end, Z for Short a gift of a novel or counter-novel in the solstice of pandemic and war.