PSF6 Review: Carpaccio (or, Repentance as a Meat Recipe) by Arlynn Despi

Posted by Paolo Chikiamco On November - 17 - 2011

This post is a part of our story-by-story review of Philippine Speculative Fiction volume 6. You can see the introductory post, and our disclaimers here. Bold font is Mia Tijam, everything else is Paolo Chikiamco.

—Ugly title.

I’m probably not the ideal reader for this story, given that my appreciation for the fine art of cooking is limited to my enthusiastic consumption of its more fattening products.

—-Haha dude, the unisex battle with the gut (and the thunder thighs and the flabby arms) is like the law of gravity especially when you hit the 30’s.

[Pao: Bah, I knew I should have pigged out more in 2008…]

Hahahaha! Man you just crack me up!

Nevertheless, I have to say that this being the first story I’ve ever read from Despi, I’m looking forward to reading more from her. She’s skilled at slipping the appropriate details into a descriptive sentence, to make a setting more concrete.

Yeah, it did make me initially hungry then it made me feel like I was watching a dragging cooking show because of these details. And because of the latter, the story lost its gruesome effect, that macabre effect in delicious cannibalism. C’mon, I wanted it to make feel “Yuuuuuuuuck…Sarap!” Just the way every time I watch Hannibal Lecter eating brain makes me want to eat Isaw or Ox Brain or Sisig.


Oye, Counsel… How do you think you’d taste if you’re cooked ala pinikpikan?

[Pao: Here is where I once again demonstrate my culinary ignorance by saying I've never tasted pinikpikan, but I'm pretty sure my lips would taste like ambrosia.]

And that kind of slick comeback, ladies and gents, is how he got his wife to marry him…There’s an advantage to being a lawyer after all! Seriously, do you know how one cooks chicken pinikpikan style? Hahahahaha!

I also like the cohesion she was able to achieve through the repetition of a particular sentence structure.

Which one? The “two hearts: one cold, one beating in anticipation”?

[Pao: Yup, that's the one.]

The beautiful line has been somewhat wasted in this text. Not enough follow through of that level of articulation. It could have been used as the opening line for each partition so as to generate levels of meaning/changes in a diacope that moves the story along.

[Pao: A diacope, for the benefit of our readers, is a rhetorical term meaning repetition of a word or phrase broken up by other words or phrases. And yes, I just Googled that, because I had no idea what that meant.]

I was actually gonna tell you to not give Goowiki definition of the damn thing hahahahaha. How redundant would it be to say now “post facto”?

I did, however, have two major problems with the story. First, the use of the second person perspective as the POV didn’t work for me. There didn’t seem to be any particular reason to choose this, the rarest and most difficult of POV perspectives, and as such it became distracting for me. When done right, second person can increase the immersion of the reader in a story, but since the protagonist here performs actions which most readers would never even consider, the POV in “Carpaccio” instead took me out of the story. Maybe that sort of clash was intended, but if so I don’t think the effect enhanced the story.

I concur, Counsel. I appreciate the risk that the author took though, precisely because the second person can be very alienating. And that is the task, isn’t it? How do you draw in the reader so that s/he becomes that “you”? This brings to mind the “You” I encountered in Vinny Simbulan’s “The Last Stand of Aurundar” in PGS 4 though it’s not as alienating. But hey, it’s not all bad.

Second, there were inconsistencies to the protagonist that confused me. Well, maybe “inconsistencies” isn’t the correct term–it’s more that the tone of the story implied something early on that is later contradicted by the text. For instance, he reacts as if this is the first time he’s ever eaten this particular kind of “meat”, and yet it would seem to be implied that he knew what his boyfriend was going to do with the meat, or at least that they had been building toward this moment (otherwise, the jump from the other gifts to this gift would be much too wide).

Nailed it, Counsel. The story has a problem with its logic. Perhaps each partition should have been juxtaposed with scenes of the gay princess thwarting this gay mama’s boy’s love which exacerbates his psychotic gustatory break? Or at least something that really pushed him into this dark side of matricide.

[Pao: That would have helped, yes.]

—Also, balisong as the murder weapon? Unless this is that big-assed balisong of somebody like Big Man Bolado, puede! Still how can that butcher a body? And aren’t there specific knives used to filet, de-bone, chop, etc?

Another thing that bothered me was how, even if we grant that the protagonist was internalizing/suppressing his guilt for most of the story, when he actually commits the crime, it is pre-meditated, and yet we see no hesitation, no hint of regret or remorse. It makes the journey to repentance ring false… and, unfortunately, that journey is the main point of the story.

A problem on foreshadowing. Was it even pre-meditated? Because I didn’t see that. It should have been there in page 29, perhaps right after the mother finishes her prayer and before “You take care of it quickly”. The motive (or impetus for the protagonist’s actions) was not strong enough, as should have been indicated in the first page of the story. Perhaps hints of that hesitation or regret/remorse should have been also present in each meal vis-à-vis more tangible stages of the transformation so that it all actually comes up to a climax and the dénouement that is the full transformation to lizard (as the legendary creature of guilt/remorse) would make sense.

As the mama says in the story why, son, why?

Pero saying eh. It could have been another great spec fic gay story! And there goes our chopping session. Moving on?

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Rocket Kapre is an imprint of Eight Ray Sun Publishing Inc. (a new Philippine-based publisher), dedicated to bringing the very best of Philippine Speculative Fiction in English to a worldwide audience by means of digital distribution. More info can be found at our About section at the top of the page.

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