Option 18: "May Day Eve" and Other Stories by Nick Joaquin
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The old woman dropped the clothes she had gathered and approached and fixed her eyes on the girl. "You must take a candle," she instructed, "and go into a room that is dark and has a mirror in it and you must be alone in the room. Go up to the mirror and close your eyes and say:
show to me
him whose woman
I shall be.
If all goes right, just above your left shoulder will appear the face of the man you will marry."
A silence. Then: "And what if all does not go right?" . . .
Bwahahahahahahahahaha! Can't you hear the ominous music in that scene?
May Day Eve was one of the two Nick Joaquin short stories I recommended to my friends on the Reading for Believers blog. We read it in February 2011, which I kicked off with a Leaping into February! post that turned into a great discussion of the themes and symbols in this story.
It's the main draw and strongest link in this small collection of shorts . . . but the rest aren't bad, either!
This may be the slimmest volume in the giveaway, but it's also one of the best deals. (But of course I'd say so: I love Joaquin and am biased.)
His bitterness leapt into active anger: Is this what I get for trying to be clean? But the voice [in his ears] laughed at him: When were you ever a lover of purity? All that solemn virtuousness of yours began as a gesture of rebellion against your father. And so it still is. If he had been a chaste man, your defiance would have taken a more perverse form.
Being the most realistic story in the bunch does not keep Three Generations from being as haunting as Joaquin's more atmospheric or "gothic" tales. On the most superficial level, it is about the power dynamics among three men who are either father or son to each other, but who don't like each other very much. The playboy is father to the puritan . . . the puritan is father to the priest . . . and the priest finds a way to bring it full circle. The idea that each generation is in rebellion to the one which came before is a theme I've been tired of for some time. I could tell there was something wrong with it, but I couldn't put my finger on what it was . . . until I reread this story last week. Rebellion, Joaquin argues, is only the most immature response one can make to one's father. A boy does not become a man until he finds the better one.
What he really feared was not a failure of flesh but of faith. Which was the reality: the temporal or the spiritual realm? What if the world's masks, images, ghosts, were not the illusions they were despised as being? Might not the senses and their transient pleasures be the one permanence after all in a flux of thought and creed? Had he been reading the lesson in reverse? What if the itches of the flesh, its greeds and ambitions, were the true fire that gave off as mere smoke and vapour the sciences of the mind and the metaphysics of the spirit?
Two words: Tropical Gothic. And I could leave it at that. =P But since that won't "sell" this book, I'll keep going . . . Tropical Gothic is the title Joaquin's short stories were first anthologised under, and for this story alone, we should have retained the label. Dona Jeronima is about an archbishop whose path to holiness is derailed when a woman from his past comes back to claim the promise he once made as her lover. The past should be past once we repent of it, but there is something about her old claim on him that feels more real than his repentance. This story is a "nightmare" in the way G.K. Chesterton's Man Who Was Thursday is A Nightmare. It asks what we would do if the most beautiful Faith in the world were also the biggest Fraud.
The Legend of the Dying Wanton
Being in charge of the wardrobe of the "Santo Rosario" . . . Dona Ana was often at that virgin's chapel when it was deserted, and at such times she always found the notorious Currito there, kneeling in an obscure corner, his head bowed and a rosary dangling from his clasped hands. She never disturbed him; he never disturbed her. She was Spanish enough not to be shocked by this commingling in a single nature of vice and purity. He was Christian enough not to be shocked that she was not shocked.
This is the story that I've been reading over and over again--sort of in the way I pray my rosary over and over again. It has that mysterious quality of growing richer as it grows more familiar. There are two lives entwined here: the notorious sinner who receives a mystical vision at the hour of his death . . . and the maternal woman who prays for him as if he were her own son. She stands in for his own mother, Holy Mother Church, and the Mother of God. And he stands in for all of us. This story draws its power from the reality that we are all "dying wantons" in our own way . . . and its beauty from Joaquin's belief that we are surrounded by miracles every day even if we don't recognise them.
Guardia de Honor
The bells begin to peal again and sound like silver coins showering in the fine air; at the rumour of drums and trumpets as bands march smartly down the cobblestones, a pang of childhood happiness smites every heart. October in Manila! But the emotion, so special to one's childhood, seems no longer purely one's own; seems to have traveled ahead, deep into time, since one first felt its pang; growing every more poignant, more complex--a child's rhyme swelling epical; a can treasure one bequeaths at the very moment of inheritance, having added one's gem to it . . .
This is the story I chose to highlight in last week's Locus Focus (That would be Take Seventy-Seven). You will understand why I picked the above excerpt in next week's Character Connection (Edited to add: Number 37). It's the emotional seed of the whole story, "planted" in the very first paragraph. How poignant to reread that line about adding a gem to a treasure after realising that the story is about a treasure that is lost, gem by gem.
You should choose this book in the giveaway if . . . you are brave enough to be haunted by beauty, whether she looks like a pagan goddess or the Mother of God.
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Image Source: "May Day Eve" and Other Stories by Nick Joaquin