“Foregrounding poetics and discourse on language and subjectivity, the poet and essayist has written a book that skillfully illustrates the varied issues he seeks to address (or at the very least address), and n ‘offer no response in process’
It’s never time to decide on a book. For many: a position of weakness to talk about a written work. What if the author himself happens to strike readers as one of those guys who can’t answer “what now?” by the final pages, I imagine both sides emerge from the ordeal feeling two very different strains of uncertainty: the reader seeks answers, the writer eternally grapples with the freedom of irregularity.
These statements are reductive for many reasons, but it’s a scenario I’ve come to observe as perhaps endemic to essay as a form, a term often used interchangeably with nonfiction. creative (for its part, a term that is actually as vague as it sounds).
What to think of the supposed unlimitedness and formlessness of the genre, of its absence of a determining marker? The stories of Martin Villanueva A pig was once killed in our garagethe things you’re supposed to tell when asked what the book is about, are presented in neat little snippets and neatly arranged and organized, you get a collection of memories and ideas that’s more reminiscent of a catalog than a collection of typical trials.
The stories here are varied and personal, from Villanueva’s childhood in Indonesia, to her treatment for bone cancer, her early life as a writer and teacher, and her relationship with her parents, which are sometimes interspersed with meditations on art and subjectivity.
Avid readers of essays may have come to expect the common technique of interweaving anecdotes with reflections so much that its desired effect fails to veil it as a convenient artifice. But Villanueva is infinitely conscious of form. Perhaps because of its fragmentary, catalog-like format, many of the boundaries between narrative and idea are clear and defined. The bulk of the non-anecdotal parts of the book are neatly divided into mini treatises on writing nonfiction that somehow read as both intellectual and personal. Students of creative writing will find these sections valuable reading.
Clearly influenced by Joan Didion (whose The white album comes up at least twice in the book, if I remember correctly), Villanueva is only too aware of this saying about telling stories for a living – the imposition of a narrative on otherwise disparate and arbitrary fragments that we accumulate throughout our lives. I suppose that’s part of the reason for the concern and the immense interest in form, an extension of this idea of Didion having largely to do with the question of control. To choose to write about your life is to impose control over it – to force it into a mold of your own design, and from there the heart of the act moves to the How? ‘Or’ What (and sometimes the Why).
This is what Villanueva constantly problematizes throughout the book. And that’s a particularly tricky thing to do with creative nonfiction as a medium – a format in which concern for truth kills any potential for experimentation, a format in which to universalize and have your readers sympathize with you. , is to spare you the discomfort of thought, a medium in which the mere recall of your life story deserves attention by virtue of what it took place.
How to write towards meaning? If it’s lazy to universalize and coherence is an illusion that writers impose on disparate images, then is it better to catalog, simply document without forcing an overarching narrative?
“The events of our lives are only anecdotes. Yet to argue that responding is simply illustrating toward memory seems like an empty gesture from the position of privileged subject from which I write. I don’t know where I’m coming from and I think that’s precisely the problem,” writes Villanueva.
By foregrounding poetics and discourse on language and subjectivity, the poet and essayist has written a book that skillfully illustrates the varied issues he seeks to address (or at least talk about), and does not offers no response in the process. What’s exciting to find in a (non-fiction) book these days. As contrived as it may sound, sometimes the actual experience of reading the problematization of a deceptively simple topic is more compelling, more illuminating, than being offered certainty at the end of a book. Villanueva is a thoughtful and skeptical narrator, attentive to what he puts on the page, which are composed but vulnerable sketches of a self rendered in unsentimental language that is never devoid of depth and feeling. I must say, however, that if the book strikes readers as sometimes too serious, I will only half disagree with them. – Rappler.com
A Pig Was Once Killed In Our Garage was a finalist for Best Essay Book at the 39th National Book Awards.
After two years of virtualization, the Manila International Book Fair (MIBF) is finally returning live this year at the SMX Convention Center, Mall of Asia Complex in Pasay City from September 15-18.