by Steven Wingate
voices of the worldwide colonialist diaspora have become the defining
characteristic of our new millennium’s literature; Marianne
Villanueva’s Mayor of
the Roses, split between tales of the Philippines and the
lives of Filipinos in America, makes a solid contribution to that
ongoing literary stream.
these eighteen stories, Villanueva explores tropes of diasporic
literature that will be familiar to readers of contemporary fiction:
dislocation from tradition, assimilation into Western culture, fidelity
to families left behind, etc. Though she does so ably and with verve,
Villanueva is at her best when she digs beneath such tropes and serves
us something more raw and elemental.
of the stories in the collection are set in Northern California among
the high-tech middle class that rides the booms and busts of Silicon
Valley. The weakness of Mayor
of the Roses lay in the similarities between some of its
stories. Certain family configurations and character traits recur
almost verbatim, and some more attention to either differentiating or
unifying these similar characters would have served the collection
well. But fortunately there are other elements to this book that
balances out the similarities of setting: unfiltered tales of
Philippine life and searing portraits of unfolding grief and
title story (and first of the bunch) pulls us immediately into a world
of indecipherable violence: a provincial Philippine mayor has arranged
for the abduction of a young beauty queen, later found raped and
murdered. This story radiates tension in every line, introducing us to
the kind of character Villanueva most excels at drawing: women in
distress, whether self-induced or brought upon by circumstance. Its
narrator attends the mayor’s murder trial because
...if I could feel
hate, if I could feel that pure emotion burning up my body, then I
would know where I belonged.
Characters of this stripe—men and
children, too—appear throughout Mayor
of the Roses, and many of them
achieve a momentary happiness what we (and, often, they themselves)
know will be replaced by an all-too-human confusion at the next turn.
Villanueva brings specificity to each of these characters, which helps
the book transcend the similarities of its settings.
haunting are the youngest son in Infected,
who obsessively watches for
the ghost of his dead mother, and the mother in Bad Thing, whose
of self unravels after her car hits a bicyclist.
gem of this book
is Lenox Hill, December
1991. Though it also works with recurrent
character types, the directness of its voice—reminiscent in its economy
of the title story—plunges us into the grim death of the narrator’s
sister. It achieves an intimacy with the reader that most of the
American-based diasporic stories do not.
has been admirably
active in the Filipino/a writing community, having edited one anthology
and been part of several others during the past two decades. As she
gives voice to the diaspora of the Philippines, she also reveals
herself as a capable of direct, surprising viscerality that resonates
after the pages of her book are closed.
Intrigued? Read one of the
stories from this collection on Marianne's blog, anthropologist.wordpress.com.
short story collection Wifeshopping won the 2007 Bakeless
Prize for fiction from the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference and was
published by Houghton Mifflin in July 2008. He teaches at the
University of Colorado.
Publisher: Miami University Press
Awards: Semi-finalist for the Sarabande
collection?: No, second
Villanueva , a former Stegner Fellow in Creative
Writing at Stanford, has been writing and publishing stories about the
Philippines and Filipino Americans since the mid 1980s.
Her critically acclaimed first collection of short fiction, Ginseng and Other Tales from
Manila (Calyx Books 1991) was short–listed for the
Philippines’ National Book Award. Her work has been widely
anthologized. Her story, Silence,
first published in the Three Penny Review, was short–listed for the
2000 O. Henry Literature Prize, and The Hand was
awarded first prize in Juked’s 2007 fiction contest. She has edited an
anthology of Filipina women’s writings, Going Home to a Landscape,
which was selected as a Notable Book by the prestigious Kiriyama
Pacific Rim Book Prize.
She currently teaches writing and literature at Foothill College and
Notre Dame de Namur University. Born and raised in Manila, she now
lives in the San Francisco Bay Area.
with Marianne Villanueva
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San Francisco Chronicle