• The art of storytelling

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    Storytelling“Stories my dear. What stories have you got to tell?”—Marie-liz to Kristina, “Wednesday Odyssey”

    Two friends meet in Escolta sometime in the 70s. Kristina is one of many narrators in the 31 stories of Geraldine Maayo who was in my class in Modern British Literature in 1964-65—a student majoring in English and Comparative Literature in University of the Philippines-Diliman.

    Geraldine had her first story published in 1972. In 1978 she won the first prize for a story “Photographs” which became the title of her collection of stories issued by New Day Publishers in 1981. She caught the attention of two iconic women writers Estrella Alfon and Gilda Cordero Fernando, both fictionists themselves and feminists well before the term began to be used. Estrella and Gilda must have found a kindred spirit in Geraldine, a sister so to speak. Franz Arcellana noted this in his foreword to Photographs and other stories.

    In 1987, she had her second book A Quality of Sadness and other stories also published by New Day Publishers which under Gloria Rodriguez had already racked up an impressive list of literary titles (predominantly short fiction) by leading writers in English. This lends credence to the impression that we were a country of short story writers. Since then the few novelists (who have at least three titles) have grown in number.

    This year we have the volume The Boys at the Boarding House and other stories, which very well deserves publication. The trajectory of Maayo’s output spans about four decades of writing short fiction and being a professor of public administration and management.

    Usually after a spell or period, the short story writer thinks about writing a novel, a form that is much more capacious, a house with many rooms, as commonly said. Ester Daroy, Azucena Grajo-Uranza andRony Diaz who developed as short story writers in the late 40s and early 50s turned to writing novels and found it rewarding. We hope Geraldine Maayo would take up novel writing (as F. Sionil Jose advised her) to cap her solid achievement in short fiction.

    In her three collections, the author manifests the ability to sustain the interest of the reader in story after story. Engaging is the word used by Franz. Each story engages the reader to follow the fortune (or otherwise) of a character portrayed or the outcome of a situation or encounter described—with simple narrative devices like flashback or internal monologue. The narrator in the first person or third person “cons” you to the ending, inevitable or surprise. Joseph Conrad and Ford Madox Ford whom she read in my class did it all the time.

    The gallery of characters (whole or glimpsed) includes: an ex-boxer reduced to penury, the philandering husband, the querida, the co-opted radical intellectual, the beggar woman, the straying boyfriend, the frustrated or failed OFW, the desperate housewife, the neurotic young instructor, a crazed woman of God, the lovesick student, the blue-eyed visiting professor, the uncouth Chinese with his submissive Filipina wife, families living in the street or sleeping in a pushcart, and so on.
    They constitute the humanity that the author has encountered through the years.

    Born and raised in Manila, she knows and describes in ethnographic detail the places, streets, and alleys of the city and its denizens, the sights and smells of the environs.

    She also draws her characters from experience in government and the academe and from out-of-town sojourns in the course of her work or study.

    People’s lives are the author’s preoccupation, their joys and frustrations, disappointments and misfortunes, their sorrows and successes not without moments of humor, grace, tenderness, and compassion. The human condition is Geraldine’s métier.

    She uses different narrators in the first or third person to tell each story. The net effect is a composite narrator or persona—an independent woman, an office worker or academic, sometimes cynical or satirical, at times sentimental or self-deprecating, someone who has had her share of friends, love, disappointments, and failed relationships. Hence, she can empathize easily with her characters.

    The third volume, The Boys in the Boarding House and other stories, reaffirms her fiction’s readability and her guileless art of story-telling. Her gallery of characters and people’s lives has expanded. And every story is a delight to read.

    All in all, we are blessed with al’embarras des richesses, an abundance that makes us, strangely enough, crave for more.

    (Geraldine Maayo’s The Boys in the Boarding House and other stories will be launched on August 24 at the School of Labour and Industrial Relations at 4.pm. The reading public is welcome).

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