Saturday, August 4, 2018

Book Review - Cecilia Brainard's Acapulco at Sunset and Other Stories by Isagani R. Cruz

Book Review
Acapulco at Sunset and Other Stories
by Cecilia Manguerra Brainard

Review by
Isagani R. Cruz, Critic at Large
Starweek, The Sunday Magazine of the Philippine Star/October 29, 1995


Modern, modernist, postmodern, post-modernist, magic realist, postcolonialist, or simply new fiction has successfully removed many of the traditional restrictions imposed on the short story genre.

Ironically, these restrictions were imposed not by creative writers but by literary critics, not by the producers of the short story but by its consumers. While in other areas of everyday life customers may always be right, they are not always right - and may in fact be incredibly wrong - when it comes to fiction.

For fiction - as Aristotle so wisely saw centuries ago - is not an art of the possible, but may even be an art of the impossible. Even wise old Aristotle, however, did not see (how could he?) that his dead, white, male, two-valued mind was hopelessly limited by temporality, color, biology, and patriarchy, nor could he foretell - despite everything he foretold so well - that fiction would remain unchangingly changing.

Fiction has changed so much in the last century or so that it has finally become recognizable. New fiction - perhaps all fiction - has become, perhaps always was, not an art of the real or - to use the serendipitous word of the Latinate English - of verisimilitude. As critics love to say, poking fun at themselves, fiction is constitutive of reality. Or put it in a shamelessly Derridean way, fiction precedes reality - before there was reality, there was fiction.

Cecilia Manguerra Brainard's stories, collected in Acapulco at Sunset and Other Stories (Anvil Publishing, 1995, 157 pages) is a case in print.

Brainard's short stories are refreshingly new, therefore comfortably old-fashioned; they are delightfully conventional, therefore startlingly innovative. They are written according to the strict conventions of new fiction, therefore not conventional or new. Or perhaps more precisely put, they are new fiction, written as though they are old, or old fiction, written as though they were new.

In Brainard's stories, Acapulco and Intramuros are the same, and at the same time, completely different places. Dead characters and live characters talk to each other nonchalantly. A young poor boy falls in love with an older rich woman, and by loving her, kills her. Filipinos find their identity in, of course, San Francisco, but not so ordinarily, in Alaska. The green card - actually blue - spells the difference between authenticity and an authentic life, between dreaming and the American dream.

In Brainard's stories, the mind does wondrous things: aside from creating an Evil-Thing that makes one do good things, for instance, it may recreate good people that spell the difference between good and evil. It may make characters live in worlds they themselves create, distinct from - often destructive of - the world that has created them. A young girl, for instance, may live for the handsome object of her adolescent fantasies, then so suddenly recognize these fantasies as mere "silly daydreams." A very old woman, saving herself for her one and only love, finally surrenders her virtue - and her life - on her death bed, of course to her one and only, now long dead, love,

Needless to say, since Brainard comes from Cebu (although she is, of course, now a leading Los Angeles writer, having had her New Day novel, Song of Yvonne published as When the Rainbow Goddess Wept by Dutton of New York, not to mention her several other publications), she sets many of her stories in Cebu, so transparently respelled as Ubec, so powerfully casting a spell as a place tied to the Cebu of her memory but developed into a Cebu of her imagination. Ubec, like Cebu, is an old and new city - it is modern yet traditional, a large metropolis yet a smal town, a capital that is not a capital. Beside Ubec, Cebu looks unreal, fictional: before Cebu was born, there was Ubec.

Brainard's imagination spans not just the space between Mexico and Manila - a space traversed by galleons two centuries ago - but the time betewen then and now, the time traversed by the Philippines as it moved, moves forward - some say backward - from a postcolonial to a post-colonial societ.

Her book uses sunset in its title, but the sun has never set on Ubec, and perhaps will never set in Cebu either. Only the real sun, so sadly limited by reality, has to set on Cebu's beaches. The unreal, the more real Acapulco-Intramuros sun in Brainard's imagination does not set even on the last page of the book which, predictably, unpredictably talks about history. "I have a history here in Alaska," goes the last sentence of the story that ends the book, echoing the epigram of the story that begins the book: "In 1780, the Filipino Antonio Miranda Rodriguez - nicknamed Chino - joined the Spanish expedition from Mexico headed for Alta California." From 1780 to 1955 is not such a long journey, either through time or space, but in Brainard's Acapulco at Sunset and Other Stories, it is a mind-boggling, mind-expanding, instantaneous journey through both time and space, at the same time and in the same space.

~end of excerpt~

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