(this is the First Draft of the Book Discussion log for the Pinoy Reads Pinoy Books #BookTalakayan that happened last July 21. Final print shall be published in the PRPB website)
The Quiet Made Some Noise – A Book Talakayan of Glenn Diaz’s The Quiet Ones
It was out of the PRPB monthly routine, the event was the third Saturday rather than the first. And, it was the author’s last hurrah, before flying out to the land down under. Last July 21, in the middle of the rain, flood and traffic, we conducted the Book Talakayan with Glenn Diaz. We found our safe haven in SGD Coffee in UP Teacher’s Village, Quezon City.
Usual events first took place – introducing oneself, what do you do in life, and what is your favorite part of the book. In a circle of more than 15 participants, the common favorite was this:
“We are the City! What is a city without inhabitants? Nothing but plants and hills and rivers. Or flood plains and esteros... The city is not a place. It is a social arrangement. Defined by concession. By consensus. It is us. A city ends when there are no longer people to define it.”
This striking quote is a birthplace of multiple short stories created as sub-plots, and remapping the interweaving narratives of Glenn’s first novel The Quiet Ones. As I asked where this work started, he zeroed in to Kilometer Zero, his short story of a Filipino and an American Anthropologist who wanted to write about Manila, coming from a foreigner’s point of view.
Glenn claims he’s Manilenyo, born and grew up in Sta. Mesa, with Ilocano parents. For us who have read the book through and through, this explains the alluring noise of Manila, and its stark contrast with the disturbing peace of Pagudpud. He does his research not as intently as I thought it would be, for he is not like the writers I imagined (those who do the mind-map and tried to bleed out the ideas from shelled-out themes).
For me, he broke the current tropes of poverty porn by creating a white noise in the daily lives of the Pinoys. By the novel more humane, he actually made bus routes, LRT tracks, and the concrete pavements of the Ayala Business District immersive and alluring – creating romance in the mundane. It was an effort, he says. “Let’s demystify writing, it takes hours of labor to put it into a piece of work.” Elaborating the unlearning, he says he desynthesized the angsty tones in his young working student years (he used to be a work in People Support from 2005-2007), making the familiar places more sentimental. He sees his former workplace with a nostalgic tone – the Lung Center, Paydays and American Holidays and Pecha de peligo – that he even thought that this phase will delay his graduation to finally get a move on with life.
The discussion were a bit disjointed; like the novel itself, series of questions were not made in linear form, but instead, it is a traverse between multiple moments, interjecting personal questions in between. Let’s say, more of probing the author himself. Instead of continuously reflecting into the quiet, it oftentimes got escalated with the [Questions of the Tita], triggering bluntness and candor in snippets of serious questions.
And the noises came in.
In a series of candid questions – reflecting on the romantic moments between Carolina and Reynaldo, Philip and Eric, Alvin and Scott – these subplots with partnered characters is a work of fiction. I see it as a staple statement to veer away more personal questions, but to be able to write a female perspective is his way of channeling Lorrie Moore. And actually, seeing himself as Carolina. He did say about an old couple he saw in Pagudpud. Perhaps, it also gave an inspiration to create a female character and a summer romance with build-up tensions at the end of the chapter.
In discussing the Palanca stint, he actually did not expect it to win. He just wrote the novel to get the project done, made an impulse decision (more of #YOLO) to submit it for Palanca Awards, and actually won without any backups, or so-called politicality of it all. He has this look that he doesn’t want his work to be tagged in the words of “Palanca Winner”; more of he was happy if he hears about a reader raving reviews without the knowledge about the award-giving body.
Calisthenic writing, is there such a thing in The Quiet Ones?
He says the first chapter itself is a writing exercise. He wanted to challenge himself if he can write an action-filled part, focusing more on the plot rather than the character’s stream of consciousness. But alas, it cannot maintain it’s consistency. I guess, it is more of his buying in to the readers to get engaged before immersing. In addition, having WE as the first-person-plural point of view is an observation from the creative writers and readers alike – and he says it is not him being part of an equation (i.e. Alvin + Glenn Diaz), but rather, it is a collective term for The Workforce.
Marie meanwhile, as an omnipresent character throughout the novel was not a writing exercise, not even an intention to create tangent points with the characters across the novel. She is the missing link, but Glenn emphasized that it was our insight in seeing that way. She used to have her own chapter, but in the end removed. For me, she represented the essence of a person sans the spotlight; like an old friend who was always there, waiting.
After closing the book discussion, I personally have a renewed love-hate relationship with Manila. Perhaps if I look at Kilometer Zero again, I might see a ghost of a Scott saying “Mahal na mahal mo itong lungsod, ano...?”