Noelle Q. De Jesus deserves better treatment from her publisher. So that at least her memorable story-telling, with such clean prose, is preserved.
Stories of illicit and aborted relationships
KRIPOTKIN - Alfred A. Yuson (The Philippine Star) - February 10, 2020 - 12:00am

Over the past two weeks, the second collection of short fiction by Noelle Q. De Jesus, Cursed & and Other Stories, published in paperback by Penguin Random House SEA in Singapore, was launched in a couple of local venues, drawing many of her friends and fans.

With 13 new short stories, De Jesus shows once again that she has mastered the form, as she had evidenced with her first collection, Blood, published in 2015 by Ethos Books of Singapore, where she resides with her family.

We reviewed that book in this space in September of 2016, noting how the author’s title story led the others in exemplifying “prose (that) is decidedly superlative, with structural aplomb and adherence to telling minutiae constantly buttressing the basic strength of her narrative skills.”

The same may be said of her second collection, where each story that details relationships and “the intricacies of intimacy” turns into a good read. Most have foreign settings, as De Jesus writes largely of Filipinas coping with the immigrant’s experience. Adultery or its temptations is a thematic concern.

In seven of the 13 stories, American males figure in a relationship, a near-romance or an aborted one with a Filipina, single or married. Five of these are set in the USA, while the other two take place in the Philippines.

“Posing” has a Filipina trying out life in America with her American husband who had cheated on her back in the Philippines, and herself turns adulterous with a younger American. 

“Wanting Eloisa” has a married American pediatrician who begins to desire a married Filipina neighbor, but discovers that she has her own demons, and winds up bonding with her Filipino husband instead. 

In “Stamina,” despite having his pregnant American wife along (together with a first kid), a visiting creative writing teacher from Montana is seduced over rounds of drinks and balut by a strong-minded Filipina student, leading to a partial motel experience.

“Trash” has a 17-year-old Filipino boy welcoming his OFW mother back from Singapore, with an American fiancée she has met online.

In the most poignant of the lot, “Dreams in English,” a Filipino father has to rush to the USA when his visiting student-daughter lands in a coma in a hospital, and gets to bond with her American boyfriend through the ordeal.

“In Her Country” has a married Filipina who has gained employment in New York flattered by the attention she gets from an American stranger she meets on an Amtrak ride. 

In the title story, “Cursed,” a Pinay married to an American is pursued by her former Filipino boyfriend. 

Another story, “Small Sacrifice,” is set in Ireland, where a mature Filipina caregiver allows a retired Irish priest, back from decades in the Philippines, to use her body for sexual release, if not entirely. 

“Names of Flowers” has subtle lesbian undertones, and appears to have an American lady as the principal character.

The other four stories are dominated entirely by Filipino characters. “Real People” has a lady broadcast researcher who looks for “the right real people to play specific roles” for a presidential debate pre-show. It is one of two stories that takes on socio-political concerns, the other being “Michael,” the only other story where sexual dalliance doesn’t figure in the narrative — at least not for real, since the near-mythic tale involves a Mocha-like DDS blogger who reverses her stance after she’s hounded in her sleep by tokhang victims.

In the short story “That Is Your Oath,” a married Filipina engages in an extra-marital affair with a visiting artist, presumably Filipino, who suddenly disappears to become a success abroad. She eventually finds out that he has immortalized her in a painting featured in a coffee-table book.

“… Sana stared intently at the picture till it blurred before her eyes and she heard the tick of her tears on the laminated page. A surprising sob caught in her throat, and she was at once beside herself with grief and remembering.

“It took much time to compose herself sufficiently, to breathe deeply and restore herself to calm, so that she could face her family and ask her husband for permission to buy such an expensive book.”

Technique plays a large part in assuring readability for De Jesus’ stories, where she carefully proceeds with the narrative but does not take it where it seems to be going, rather on a different turn that often results in a surprising epiphany.

Vastly different from the rest is “Recollections of an Older Bride,” which stretches into years, far beyond the usual parameters of the modern short story with its momentary situation. Told in broad strokes, more like a running expository account, it follows the life of Cielo from a teener who idolizes a “practical” aunt and follows her footsteps as a canny prostitute bent on building up a nest egg, until she succumbs to what she had always feared and fended off: developing a special relationship with a former client when she reaches her mid-30s.

It’s a racy story, a page-turner. Regrettably, among the stories, it’s what suffers the most from mystifyingly sloppy copyreading and proofreading — something that a reader may let pass in the previous stories, until the typos include misspelling the poet Gerard Manley Hopkins’ name with “Manly.”

In “Recollections…,” missing words and letters are a-plenty, so that we get stupefying lines like “She believed it to be a at once…” and “… she knew what it as that she wanted to do.” Over a dozen other sics are demanded in page after page. (“Most of the day, she spend watching movies.” “She saw his pants were unzipped and his private part jutt out.”). Incredible, so that one almost suspects sabotage on the part of the copyreaders and proofreaders.

It’s a pity, really. We can only hope that this first edition is rectified. Noelle Q. De Jesus deserves better treatment from her publisher. So that at least her memorable story-telling, with such clean prose, is preserved.

NOELLE Q. DE JESUS
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