FA­MIL­IAR ALIENATIONS IN DIAZ’S ‘THE QUIET ONES’

The Philippine Star - - SUPREME - DLS PINEDA

Win­ning the Grand Prize in this year’s Palanca Awards is not the great­est feat of Glenn Diaz’s first book, The Quiet Ones (Ate­neo Press, 2017). As Philip­pine lit­er­a­ture loses an en­tire gen­er­a­tion to Wat­tpad and the re­cent slough of Hol­ly­wood­ized pa­per­backs, Diaz draws his knives out and comes up with a novel that is at once nec­es­sary and plea­sur­able. The Quiet Ones gives us a clear pic­ture of where we are now and it does so mi­nus the melo­drama, gore and ob­vi­ous sym­bol­ism Philip­pine lit­er­a­ture tra­di­tion­ally pre­pos­sesses; hi­lar­i­ous in the same way that we laugh over un­paid over­time work. It’s a won­der it won at the Palan­cas.

The book be­gins in one of NAIA’s ter­mi­nals where Alvin, a call cen­ter agent who re­cently quit his post, waits to board his flight to Ta­cloban (pre-Yolanda) in an at­tempt to dust the cops away from his trail. We learn he has con­spired with his friends at work to suc­cess­fully em­bez­zle a huge amount of US cur­rency. Not un­in­tel- ligent, Alvin thinks he had sound mo­tives and a clean es­cape sorted out. Now in search of a cause, he runs away with his mil­lions and tries to hide.

This sto­ry­line holds the book to­gether. But what re­ally makes the book both so funny and heart­break­ing are the lives of its many pro­tag­o­nists which are, in many ways, their own but not quite; lives that are con­nected but not in the sticky, sappy way we imag­ine them to be. The Quiet Ones does not prof­fer a so­lu­tion to this coun­try’s plethora of woes and no, it does not even men­tion tokhang. In­stead, it makes you laugh and cry and won­der why — and more im­por­tantly, how — you got the book’s de­press­ing hu­mor. In the end, it leads you to dou­ble-take on the way we view our­selves and ask, “Are we, in all hon­esty, sad?”

That the novel is set in this mil­len­nium, well be­yond the stuff of mus­ta­chioed ilustra­dos and decades af­ter the dark years un­der Mar­cos, is al­ready a step for­ward. This does not mean to say that it ig­nores or glosses over the much-lauded “his­tor­i­cal (and un­abashedly po­lit­i­cal) roots of our poverty.” Rather, the novel de­picts these in ways that are seem­ingly and en­ter­tain­ingly non-vi­o­lent, in ways that we, the mid­dle class, have all grown too used to: in friendly con­ver­sa­tions, in in­spired, pseudo-in­tel­lec­tual ar­gu­ments, in of­fice meet­ings and sem­i­nars, etc., etc. Diaz tells these sto­ries in sen­tences that are plain and mus­cu­lar. His ma­te­rial is heavy while his prose re­mains unas­sum­ing, the au­thor ul­ti­mately one with his Quiet Ones.

ALL TOO REAL

As Diaz presents a story that de­picts the world and its all-too-real con­se­quences, his style places a high pre­mium on the fa­mil­iar and the plau­si­ble, if not ac­tual events hap­pen­ing as we speak. What’s re­mark­able in The Quiet

Ones, how­ever, is how it lo­cates these mean­ing­ful in­ci­dences some­where be­yond the grand po­lit­i­cal time­lines and com­men­taries ev­ery­one is too prone to air on so­cial me­dia these days. In­stead, the book fo­cuses at­ten­tion on the tiny, in­sid­i­ous de­tails that gov­ern our daily lives. Take this pas­sage, for ex­am­ple. The un­sure Alvin muses aloud about the vis­ual noise tele­phone ca­bles and livewires make:

“My phone’s bugged again.” She looked up to the di­shevel of black ca­bles, which seemed to frame ev­ery open space in the city.

Scott had com­plained about them once, said he couldn’t take a de­cent pic­ture in Manila with­out the tan­gle of wires. “But maybe that’s the point, ‘no? Our at­tempts at con­nec­tion co­a­lesc­ing—” I in­ter­rupted that train of thought and told him that the lines used to be neat, a sign of progress, un­til they swelled be­yond con­trol, around each other, in ev­ery an­gle imag­in­able, an in­stant Rorschach ev­ery­where you turned, un­til the un­sightly webs grew be­yond any vis­i­ble un­rav­el­ling.

NA­TION, NAR­RA­TIVES, ETC. ETC.

As a piece of Philip­pine lit­er­a­ture set in the present times, The Quiet Ones nec­es­sar­ily ar­gues some­thing about na­tion and iden­tity, and it does this by set­ting the spot­light on a usu­ally un­pro­nounced though cru­cial as­pect of our sur­vival — the work­place. There, where our hu­man­i­ties are par­ti­tioned into three — mak­ing friends, sur­viv­ing of­fice pol­i­tics, and most im­por­tantly, earn­ing money — the book presents a view that is largely un­heard of in Philip­pine lit­er­a­ture in English: that all this talk about a Filipino iden­tity is im­po­tent in the face of money and the ma­chine.

Here is where The Quiet Ones suc­ceeds largely. In por­tray­ing what is at once home, colo­nial and alien, the book takes its read­ers to task with the ques­tion, “Where do we fall in this mess?”

And while Diaz drops clues of a ge­og­ra­phy so fa­mil­iar to us, the pic­ture he paints is no Amor­solo, no pho­to­graph en­dorsed by the Pres­i­dent’s men, and his voice makes no nos­tal­gic at­tempt to echo an An­glo­phonic Balag­tas. In­stead, he sits us down in a hall awash with white light, sub­servient to a time zone that isn’t ours, and he tells us a tale that could’ve hap­pened any­where and nowhere at the same time.

The Quiet Ones will be part of Ate­neo Press’s up­com­ing book launch early this Novem­ber.

The 2017 Palanca Award Grand Prize win­ner is set to pub­lish its book this Novem­ber.

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