It is a world in which American pop culture and local Filipino tradition mix flamboyantly, and gossip, storytelling, and extravagant behavior thrive. A wildly disparate group of characters — from movie stars to waiters, from a young junkie to the richest man in the Philippines — become caught up in a spiral of events culminating in a beauty pageant, a film festival, and an assassination. In the center of this maelstrom is Rio, a feisty schoolgirl who will grow up to live in America and look back with longing on the land of her youth. It is a rich and satisfying work and certainly among the best novels I have read this year. What does naked power look like?
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Review: Dogeaters by Jessica Hagedorn Hungry Mind Review Number 14 May-June, The Predestination of It All In every society—ruled by tyrants or popularly elected leaders—there is often a corporate elite whose corruption and mean-spiritedness defy all justification for their influence, including the privilege of wealth.
Here, the Filipino mafia is headed by the Gonzaga and Alacran families, who are "related by money," as the cynical Uncle Agustin Gonzaga says. Intercoco, for short. Since this is s Philippines, we are a few years from Ferdinand and Imelda. The novel focuses on the social life that surrounds the growing military-corporate dictatorship in the Philippines. Such occupation is nothing new. Under the U. The story of the novel is less a story than a series of portraits of decadence, emphasizing how the corrupt train their progeny to follow them and demean others in the process.
The novel focuses partly on how one character, Joey, is victimized by the ruling families. A homosexual hustler, a coke addict, a man very unaware of local politics, Joey works in the military bars of Manila and is himself the product of a hustle: his father was an African-American soldier and his mother, a whore.
Joey is used by everyone as a contact to the underworld. Much trouble occurs because of his connections, especially after he witnesses the assassination of the liberal Senator Avila. Hagedorn writes with a sardonic, hyper-critical tone, a masculinist, fevered voice. Did I have a daddy? Was my daddy an American? Mocking him. You must be kidding!
I want to say good things about such experimental fiction, its brashness, its descriptive energy, its deft portrait of Filipino life under Yankee cultural domination. But while I find much here craftily described I sense more accuracy in the description than honesty there is also much—too much—disengaging.
The novel begins with Rio recounting scenes from her chaperoned adolescence. She remembers the women around her aspiring only to swindle the powerful or marry them. Rio too begins to fall into the same patterns of dreariness her female relatives endure, swooning over movie stars or their own husbands, symbiotic sources from whom these women refuel their neediness.
Why does she choose to drive her own car, when she can obviously afford a chauffeur? Pucha wants to know. Episodes with limited action and bloated description start up, shut down; any momentum that gets moving is constantly arrested. Then we watch year-old Baby Alacran elope with Pepe Carreon, who later becomes the chief torturer for the wicked General Ledesma.
And, as we go, very little is connected, while other interruptions ensue. Quotes from the fictitious "Metro Manila Daily" appear about a fledgling political insurgency.
What began with concentration and purpose, now, like a motorized merry-go-round breaking apart at high speed, flings its horses to the wind, and nothing settles in to stabilize the story. I realize the writer is mirroring a fragmented society but what is the consciousness or conscience within the novel that judges it so? What happened to Rio? Her growing sensitivity vanishes. Was she silenced by the decadence? Her tidy look-back from s America hardly ties things together. Even once the Right-hating, reform-minded Senator Avila is killed and his feisty daughter, Daisy, joins the guerrillas in the hills, we are offered only the simplest, most circular conclusion.
The wicked will pay one day for their evil. Corruption is always conspiratorial. Most everyone is a stock character. Easily recognizable props for a predictable plot.
Nor is the sense of a purposely disjointed narrative rendered coherently. To experience time shifting from a past, that is present, to a future one, we need a unifying action--a context--to break away from and return to. Dogeaters needs a similar ground. But riddled with so many intrusions that tousle time and point of view, the overall sense of a consequent destiny limps along. With such authorial roadblocks Joey cannot find the center of doom in his life.
The novel is a sort of performance, which is what Hagedorn does besides writing. She is a performance artist in New York City, having presented her work at The Kitchen, among other places. Admirable, to try to make fiction performance-oriented. But here it seems to be fiction you sit in the presence of, as Virgil Thomson once said about minimalist music. Music like pictures. A gallery of autonomous portraits that show little causal significance or repercussions of choices made or left and develop only greater pictorial detail.
Plot summary[ edit ] Dogeaters follows the stories of several characters in the Philippines, including members of the Alacran, Avila and Gonzaga families. A dictator rules the country. However, leftists are challenging his authority and his actions, resulting in great turmoil and violence. The book begins with lengthy introductions and character descriptions. Rio Gonzaga plays the role of narrator for her family; other important characters are introduced through a third person narrator, such as the wealthy Severo Alacran, and his wife Isabel.
Review: Dogeaters by Jessica Hagedorn Hungry Mind Review Number 14 May-June, The Predestination of It All In every society—ruled by tyrants or popularly elected leaders—there is often a corporate elite whose corruption and mean-spiritedness defy all justification for their influence, including the privilege of wealth. Here, the Filipino mafia is headed by the Gonzaga and Alacran families, who are "related by money," as the cynical Uncle Agustin Gonzaga says. Intercoco, for short. Since this is s Philippines, we are a few years from Ferdinand and Imelda. The novel focuses on the social life that surrounds the growing military-corporate dictatorship in the Philippines. Such occupation is nothing new.