The layout, designed by the author, is brilliant. It creates an illusion that you are reading a collection of magazine articles; there are passages highlighted the way newspapers and magazines highlight important lines. The size is adapted from the size of small magazines to give it a complete literary journalism-feel. The cover design is by Jet Tan, Tan together with Roberta Santos made the illustrations inside. They are both Visual Arts students of the Philippine High School for the Arts.
The works are concise, the tone varies with each piece but you can hear a haunting rhythm that unifies all the essays.
The author, Lora Noreen Domingo, neatly arranges dialogues, setting, scenes, emotions in bell jars trapping the most fitting atmosphere. As a reader, you fear the bell jars might shatter anytime.
In Tiny Takeways, we see a child from Butuan, entering a hospital in a time when doctors from the metros have begun settling in their province. We listen to the doctor speak the language that is not hers and the child detects this. The author allows you to peer into a private consultation, into the characters’ most private sentiments it is almost impolite. The essay encases the tension that is never spoken between the doctor and a parent, through the eyes of a child.
Similarly, an ordinary afternoon with her friends is turned into a work of art in “Crawlers“. We get entangled in the essay’s metaphor, stretched as far as possible. The author becomes the exact opposite of her character when she starts revealing how she sees the match box houses. She creates a kind of game by connecting the tracks, the junk shops, the scraps of metal and the children into a finely-knit web.
In “Rituals for the Living“, the author’s grandmother is likened to a fish. All the possible comparisons are made, from the fish never swimming against the current, to it being trapped in an aquarium and then being sliced and given away. Even the physical features of the fish, its scales and how it appears in her grandmother is also explored. This is how the essay begins:
The procedures of disposing the possessions of the deceased and cleaning a fish were almost the same.
My mother sliced through the gills to remove the entrails, scooping out Grandma Marga’s toiletries and panties.
In the same way one brushed the scales off the fish, she rid the over-occupied closet of objects my mother decided could not be given away like the tiny keepsakes whose meaning only grandma could understand.
The shortest is “Lessons on Preservation” and this work represents most of the collection’s fundamental structure. It borrows a simple scene, such as an uncle cooking an omelette in a very old frying pan but it is turned it into a grand feast by presenting each detail as an exquisite artifact. Each character is dressed in the fanciest fabric: his or her past, with patterns made of only the most valuable events in the person’s life. Each scene and dialogue is curated with so much precision.
The extended metaphors are the trickiest parts, sometimes the author gets entangled in them, sometimes there is a disconnect between the details but the author pushes on, stretches as far as possible. And though the metaphor did not have to be present from start to finish, the author wanted to be loyal to her structure, her experiment and themes. This makes her works both vulnerable and sturdy at the same time, a creature like no other.