Ian Rosales Casocot (1975, Dumaguete, Negros Oriental, Philippines) is one of the highest regarded of contemporary short story writers from the Philippines. He has won numerous awards for his stories. He was awarded a fellowship to study at the University of Iowa writing program in 2010. He teaches English and literature at Silliman University in Dumaguete City. He is for sure the best known writer of Gay fiction in the country. I really do not like labels like "Gay writer". I do not really want to ever say someone is a great Gay, Hispanic, or Caucasian writer. You are either a great or good writer or you are not. Once you add on a label it is not clear what the word that follows it means. Would you buy a stop watch on being told it is considered one of the best of Mexican stopwatches? This being said, if someone were to ask me to recommend a collection of short stories by an author from the Philippines that might give a feel for what it is like to grow up gay in the Philippines I would at once recommend Beautiful Accidents by Ian Casocot knowing that reader will be very pleased with the exquisite prose. There are twelve wonderful short stories in this collection. They range from coming of age stories, stories about mothers and aunts (titas), about cruising the streets to make money from sex to pay for your college tuition, corporate intrigue, and a great longer story about "The Secret Love and Personal History of Tigulang, Liberator of Oriental Negros" which aside from being a brilliant work of art is also a hard to come by history lesson. The book also includes an interesting introduction by one of Casocot's creative writing professors, Timothy R. Montes.
In posting on short story collections I like to look at particular stories rather than simply generalize about the collection. If I were pondering buying or reading a short story collection this is what I would prefer to read and I also think it shows more respect for the writer. As I normally do, I will post a bit on some of the stories and then will try to say what I like about the collection and why I think it is worth reading. I will also include the official author biography of Ian Casocot and links to where you can learn more about his work as well as details about the publisher of the E book edition, Flipside Digiital Content.
"Old Movies" is the lead story in the collection and it a brilliant account of the family life of the narrator, a young gay man. Some superficial readers or the homophobic will probably look on this story as an account of what caused the narrator to become gay. I loved his description of his mother: "On good days, Mother comes out of her room in an Ava Gardner stupor. She is a sinewy siren with mischief in her hair. She has a class of Scotch in her hand". This is from when the narrator was ten. The mother and her son are very into old American movies. The mother's sister lives there also. The mother says the boy is a bastard. The aunt hisses at her that she is drunk. The narrator is now a young man, people call him Jaguar because he can pass for a young Philip Salvador (an award winning Filipino actor known for his good looks). His father was a security guard at a pawn shop and claimed he was once a cab driver in Cebu. The day after his mother's water broke, his father left town on his motorcycle. His mother kept the fact that she was pregnant a secret with baggy fitting clothes until the day he was born. Her family gets in a car wreck on the way to the hospital in one really hilarious and sad very cinematic episode. One of the really fun things about this story is the household chaos with people coming and going at all times. As times goes buy the mother and the aunt will give him various accounts of how he got his name. In the only picture he has seen of his father he looks like James Dean "with peacock masculinity astride his motorcycle". When we first see the narrator in a romantic setting with another man his lover tells him that "You are so Rock Hudson". The time is now the 1990s. His friend tells him he does not have to hide his sexual status anymore. The story flashes back in forth in time and cover a long period. We see his once beautiful mother dying of cancer, but we see it through images from American movies. Under the surface, "Old Movies" is a very devastating story about the consequences of cultural colonialism and the corrosive consequences this has had for the culture of the Philippines (and elsewhere). It is also a beautifully written story and anybody who grew up in or has a "crazy" family will love it,
"Cruising" is an exciting story about the life of a young gay man working his way through college as a call boy and a street pickup. He has what is called, in his line of work, an "angle". He is the high IQ very literate call boy. He says he is kind of the like the straight man's fantasy figure of the "hot librarian". He has a woman he is close to, she seems to be a prostitute also but you have to read between the lines a bit here, which is a good touch. He tells her if he had a better body he would do porn. She tells him he might be able to work as a dancer in a gay bar. He is enrolled in college seeking a philosophy degree. He joins a gym to improve his body. We see him with his customers in cheap hotels. The narrator of the story likes, maybe to mask what he does, to think about his work in terms set out by Jung and Derrida. He charges his customers 1000 peso for two hours. He tells himself he is is making an experiment in capitalism and testing the theories about supply and demand of Marx in his work. He had a scholarship but he lost it, he says, because he would not provide one of his professors with oral sex. We learn a good bit about the sexual desires of the men he meets. In bed he feels like he is the master of the men that pay him. In one case the only way he can get his client to climax is to talk to him about Oscar Wilde. We also spend some late night time in a disco. I am leaving out much of the plot. This story is a very real seeming account of the mental state of a gay cruiser, he loves and hates what he is doing, objectifies his clients and tries to intellectualize himself into almost a temple prostitute. All in all a story that sees through dozens of layers of rationalization.
"Yeah, Baby, Take It All In, Bitch"
Anybody who has ever worked in an office where there are rumors of downsizing will totally relate to this story. The atmosphere in the office has been getting worse and worse for days now, the signs of a big coming layoff are there for anyone to read. Then, the work place is an online newspaper, one in the Metro Manila area, and Sherry has called a big meeting. Everybody hates her and they all say on what now! They find out on December 14, four days from the meeting, sixty percent of the workers will be let go. Nice Christmas gift. They claim that retention will be based only on merit but come one who believes that. The workers talk on and on about how much they hate Sherry. Of course the company tells them they expect everyone to do their best work as if nothing was going to happen. The workers wonder how they will tell their spouses and family. One of the writers says he does not want to have to leave Manila and go back to his families home in Dumaguete. We learn a lot about the lives of the employees and we do like it when rumors start to circulate that Sherry is going to be among those let go. When the time comes the management has a very 21th century way of letting you know if you still have a job or not. If your user name and password still work, then you are not fired. As the story plays out we see how people cope. There is a lot in this pretty long story, more than I can relay but it is a story anybody from any country can relate to though one of the great things about it for me is that it is a very rooted in the Philippines story. There is always something neat about stories with references to places you have been to.
This is a great story and provides a history lesson you will find nowhere else. One of the things that makes it so challenging to understand the culture and history of the Philippines is the great diversity of languages and backgrounds. Up until after World War II people from the Philippines did not think of themselves so much as Filipinos but as citizens of their regions. This is particularly true of people who live on the smaller Islands. There are no bridges between the islands so people see their island as their home. Often the island has its own language and is controlled by hereditary strongmen. You are not going to learn this history in text books or classrooms, the only resource is from the people who live there (and by and large as is normal the younger people are not interested) or in stories in literature. This story is about Don de La Vina la Rosa who brought peace with native peoples who had been hostile to development of the area and who brought in large numbers of settlers. (One of the controversies in studies of the history of the Philippines involves indigenous roots versus Chinese, Malay, or Spanish. I personally think the indigenous roots (meaning back to 1200 or so before the Chinese and Malay came) of the DNA of the Philippines is way underestimated but this is a huge question.) In just a few years he transformed a jungle island into a hacienda based agricultural area and became hugely rich in the process. He was not just rich, he was like a king. This totally wonderful long short story is about his mistress. It is narrated through the voice of a young man she is close to. La Rosa is a pretty old man when the story begins and the woman quite young, normal enough for the time and place. She likes the young man because he is indifferent to the shame inherent in being a mistress, even his daughters are older than her. This is just a really delightful story I totally enjoyed reading.
Each of the eight remaining short stories is very well done. The level of the prose is very high. The stories are rooted in place, mostly in Manila or Dumaguete, Negros Oriental. The metro Manila area has over 20 Million people and Dumaguete 120,000 so the stories are also about the contrast of small town life to life in a huge mega-city. You can tell Casacot loves his home area, maybe he probably finds Manila exciting but it is not home and that shows in these wonderful stories. The prose is beautiful. Most of the stories do deal with gay relationships, dealt with in a very knowing and sensitive fashion.
Casacot has a very interesting blog The Spy in the Sandwich where you can learn more about his work and his thoughts.
The E-book of Beautiful Accidents was published by Flipside Publishing which is the premier source for books about the Philippines or by new and established writers from the Philippines. They offer a wide variety of books from serious academic history as well as popular history, collections of short stories, literary and popular fiction, humor, children's books, technical manuals and GLBT books. The prices are very fair and their webpage is very well done.
Beautiful Accidents by Ian Rosales Casocot deserves a place among the best writers of short stories in the world today. For many people it will teach them things they never learned in school about life in the Philippines and will let those into GLBT literature see what it was like to grow up Gay in the Philippines, I think those from many first world countries could learn a lesson in brotherhood from these stories. There is r-rated material in some of the stories.