After two interconnected novels, Rony V. Diaz has finished a third one, the finale of the saga of the Montt family of the landed aristocracy in Central Luzon. Instead of issuing a separate book, Diaz put all three together in one title called Canticles for Three Women. A novel in three parts, the author says, not a trilogy.
I have reviewed the first two parts as separate books, At War’s End and The Adventures of Candida in this column. The third is titled Quita y Pone, the Spanish origin (de quita y pon) of a Filipino expression kitaypone, which means “marupok” or brittle usually in reference to objects or material things .
That Diaz uses it as a purported theme of Quita y Pone is the burden of our comments here as I consider Canticles as an integrated whole.
Actually, each part can stand on its own as a novel. The author is at work on another novel and when it’s done he shall have written in my tally four separate novels or titles. A good record in “a country of short story writers.” Not too many novelists in town.
Diaz brings into his novelistic form his discipline as a short story writer who as an undergraduate won three Palanca awards for the genre besting his own mentors in UP Diliman. This accounts for the tightness of each Diaz novel. He writes it with a minimum of extraneous material that impedes the narrative flow. He is a formalist to the core, but he does not sacrifice details like the historical material that make up the bulk of his three books.
In Quita y Pone he seems to have written creative non-fiction, for his accounts of actual personages and events (without disguising names) like the First Couple, Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos, martial law, the assassination of Ninoy Aquino, the two trials of the perpetrators and alleged masterminds, the snap election, EDSA, and the rise of Corazon Aquino are all too palpable and authentic.
Canticles for Three Women is an incredible social history that spans the years from the turn of the century to the present. It focuses on the Montt family particularly the three women who figure after the death of the patriarch and are left to deal with peasant rebels, cult armed groups, corrupt officials, bankers, compradors, the oligarchs living in guarded villages like Dasmarinas and Forbes Park, and agents of the Central Intelligence Agency.
The CIA becomes apparent only in the third book Quita y Pone when Pacita, the focal character, in her desire to know more about society gets involved in data gathering for the Company. She ferrets out secrets of the Palace as a member of the group that the First Lady formed—the Blue Ladies. Pacita becomes the conduit of information for her “handler”—an American who had previously (in The Adventures of Candida) advised and performed “cloak and dagger” tasks for the Montt family in Central Luzon. In turn she is filled in with confidential information about people in high places like the First Couple, and other VIPS. They are caricatured through the eyes of Pacita who thus forms a not too hopeful picture of society.
Pacita is the adopted daughter of the Montt family, unlike Clara, a woman of steel, the subject of At War’s End, and whose murder by unknown assailants stokes the reader’s interest for a sequel, or Candida in the second novel, The Adventures of Candida, that does not end definitively the saga of the Montt family. Candida, the daughter of inquilino parents had become part heir to the Montt fortunes. The natural heirs, the Montt siblings, Virgilio and Clara are dead. Candida, an intellectually precocious child, easily excels in school and uses her diploma in teaching in the slums of Tondo. She is a strong-willed woman who knows how to exact justice during the Japanese occupation by executing a Kempeitai informer responsible for the torture and jailing of her father-in-law in Fort Santiago.
Pacita, daughter of a Galician priest and his concubine, emerges from the background as beneficiary of the will of Clara who was murdered.
Pacita knows what she wants from her good fortune, moves from the Ermita residence she inherited to Dasmarinas Village living the life of a nouveau riche while working as a journalist for The Manila Times catching the attention of the First Lady. The American adviser of the Montt family encourages her to become a Blue Lady. At this point she realizes that Jim Mcauliffe is a CIA agent when he invites her to the Seafront along Roxas Boulevard . She receives instructions as an informant/asset of the CIA. It is through Pacita’s point of view that the reader gets a good picture of the machinations and corruption in Philippine society and politics. It crosses her mind to write a long work titled Quita y Pone about unstable institutions in the country.
Canticles for Three Women must rank as an epic novel where history intermingles with imagination, leaving an indelible impression of the bankruptcy and untenability of elite rule in the country—giving credence or verisimilitude to the title Quita y Pone .
It would be a challenge for any novelist to go beyond the compass of a pessimistic vision to write closure to the sorry condition prevailing in the land.
The book will be launched on May 26, 5 p.m. at Soldaridad Bookshop, Padre Faura, Ermita, Manila.