book: ang mga kaibigan ni mama susan

"ang mga kaibigan ni mama susan" by bob ongwho would’ve thought that bob ong, whose first four books were oddball compilations of anecdotes that ranged from hilarious to snarky, would turn out to be such a serious writer of prose?

i guess ALAMAT NG GUBAT (literal translation: myth of the forest), his socio-political novella masked as a fable, was a sign. we should expect more amazing books from the guy who started his writing career with A B N K K B S N P L KO (literal translation: wow, i can read now).

with ANG MGA KAIBIGAN NI MAMA SUSAN (literal translation: mama susan’s friends), we get a new format from bob ong: the journal.

most high school and college students here in metro manila are familiar with the journal: a semester/school year-long project from english/filipino teachers who are either punishing us, or want us to become prolific writers.

and that’s where the story of ANG MGA KAIBIGAN NI MAMA SUSAN begins–with a journal our main character (galo) has to fill for his college professor who lost his first journal. and just out of habit, and because he didn’t want to waste the thick notebook he had used for the journal, he decided to continue writing.

my personal experience with the journal project is that it’s hard to fill. we’re supposed to write about our days, but when you’re in school most of the time, what else can you write but how every day was the same as the day before? and it’s not like you can write about your teachers without the fear of having said teacher find out; and then there’s the fear of getting sent to the school councilor if you try to write something out of the box.

galo doesn’t have these fears, obviously. then again, he was able to prove his theory early on that his professor didn’t even read the journals they were submitting. so galo writes about his heartbreak, his financial and domestic problems, etcetera.

it’s only when he decides to return to his province that his journal writing takes a darker turn.

something has happened in his grandmother’s house during the time he had stayed in manila. the house, while still in good condition, seems to have gone back to the past, instead of riding the present wave of technology. after living in the world of cable television and network gaming, galo is trying to enjoy the simple provincial life–and failing.

without anything to do, galo is witness to all the weird things happening inside his grandmother’s house. the unexplained noise, the scary sculptures–and his grandmother’s friends who are freaky in their own right.

ANG MGA KAIBIGAN NI MAMA SUSAN starts out as a fun recollection of the late 90’s, and then takes on the tones of fanaticism and horror as the story goes along. this book is definitely not for the easily-scared.

find out what other people are saying about the book:
good reads
simply human
and in tagalog, at alvin galvan’s blog

book: craving

"craving" by david hontiverosthere’s something about putting small children in danger that terrorizes almost everyone. and it is this fear that david hontiveros evokes in CRAVING.

still part of the filipino horror book pile (three more to go–four, if i ever find a copy of NINE SUPERNATURAL STORIES), CRAVING was recommended by blogger will. he said, “Have you read anything by David Hontiveros? Craving was okay.

and i agree with will’s statement; CRAVING is okay.

the novella centers around married couple lester and anne who heeds the suggestion of their ob-gyn, to take an extended vacation in the province. that’s because anne is having trouble with carrying a pregnancy, and a change of pace in life might just be what she needs.

this is not a supernatural worry. this is something that really happens in real life. and this, i think, is the reason why CRAVING is effective in building up the fear ante. because it builds up on something very much taken from real life. and it showcases fear in its most popular guise: “fear of losing a loved one.” albeit, in the novella, the loved one in question is yet to be born. but that just emphasizes the fear more.

when lester and anne start to experience chilling conversations with locals, and a stare of owls suddenly take interest in hanging out at their backyard, the novella takes a turn to the foreboding.

fear continues to grow, which is a very good thing when it comes to horror. but when you keep building up fear, you’re expected to give a fitting end that would either give your reader a scare to haunt them for days to come, or at the very least, an ending that would satisfy the reader’s hunger for the macabre.

david hontiveros delivers with the macabre. and then ends with an epilogue that took away the horror from an otherwise promising book.

from the books i’ve read, the movies (and television shows) i watched, i understand this: horror works best when there is emotional attachment involved. but for horror to actually scare people, you should keep the emotional scenes to just an involvement–don’t let it work its way into the limelight. otherwise, the horror falters.

so, like blogger will, i would recommend CRAVING to other people too. but i would add one more recommendation: when reading the book, skip the epilogue. unless you like your horror with a dose of self-imploring drama.