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.
Except for a jolting transition after the 3rd paragraph on the first page and “dull thud” making my bell wince, I found the story smooth, short, and sweet. There were still cliché phrases but this story showed when such articulation is just appropriate like in the usage of “woke with a start” or “…looked at him uncomprehendingly”. Because to do otherwise would make the story’s language suddenly turning verbose. Though the latter is still kind of making me wince given that it is an isolated line and therefore draws implied significance.
What I enjoyed craft-wise in this story was the ability of the author to hone in on very specific environmental/sensory details in order to give more reality and particularity to a scene. “…[s]troked the space between the inside of the elbow and the surgical tape that held the tube down…” If you’ve been in the hospital much/recently, you know exactly where that spot is. Another: “There was a smell of old coffee beans and spiders lurking in corners.” (I’d like to think that last is intentionally ambiguous.)
— Man you haven’t been to old houses in the provinces much, huh? There’s a smell exactly like that in bodegas (or what we call in Bicol as zaguan). Can also be smelled in old aparadors. Think of the smell of old spiders as a thicker smell of dust, add that smell of coffeebeans, et voila! C’est par la: It doesn’t make you sneeze.
[Pao: Our “ancestral home”, so to speak, is on a farm. I guess the spider smell was overpowered by the chicken poop, er, coop.]
One thing that bothered me about the opening scene–I’ve mentioned this before–is the non-identification of the POV character with a proper noun until the third paragraph. As I said, maybe it’s a bias from my time in the slush fields, but if basic information is withheld from me, I expect it to have been done for a reason, and there didn’t seem to be any need not to just say “So Simeon woke with a start…” (And I don’t think you sacrifice in media res by a clear identity.)
— Double-checked that. The way I see it, if proper noun were used in the first paragraph, the beginning would lose that sensation of emerging from sleep. The use of proper noun would make the POV too conscious, because as it is the POV’s panning from internal subconscious to waking to groggy alertness.
[Pao: Ah, I see your point. But then why not introduce it in the second paragraph? Protagonist seems fully aware by then.]