Second Person, A Second Time: Getting Better and Amazing Grace

by Andrea Macalino

▶︎ What was it about Tara FT Sering’s “Getting Better” (also featured in Reconnaissance) that pulled me in? Cristina Pantoja-Hidalgo, in the book’s end note, discusses its character’s modernity, infused with a kind of hip urgency, which I believe to be true. For me, personally, the allure of chick literature is that it invokes pop culture with no apologies. There’s not doubt you’ll find the title Sex & The City more than once, not just in “Getting Better,” but in countless chick lit books and short fiction; there will also be references to 90’s romantic movies, or the titles of John Hughes films that were a collective yearning growl making up one generation.

Still at the personal level but mixed with a heightened interest for the possibilities of narrative-writing, the instant attraction I felt towards “Getting Better” had to do with its use of the second person narration. Of course, that might not be as novel as it sounds; if you look hard enough you’ll find other books and short stories in other genres that use the same technique.

But Tara Sering’s Kar in “Getting Better,” narrated through the second person establishes an intimate fixture in the reader’s mind because almost all of it reads as a steady “Keep Calm” guide. It’s practically list of reminders on what to do on emergencies (i.e., when the Mr. Right in the text becomes shady–which happens quite often), only in the form of a short, fluid novel.

It’s difficult (and not really worthwhile) to have to convince people that between the lines of every chick lit fiction lies a sliver of profundity. It’s strange, because as I’ve found in “Getting Better,” it’s not so much the huge life lessons you find in this kind of text, but the little tidbits that your mother has shared with you as a toddler, but have forgotten in the rush of adult life.

At some point, like, say, three in the morning, stop kicking yourself. You never imagined that at twenty-seven, you’d be trying to remember something your mama said to ease a late twenties kind of pain. Did she say you’re too nice? Or was it “be nice to yourself?” At eight in the morning, you wake up from a weird dream. In it, you were making out with Miko on the couch of your apartment and your mom suddenly breezed by holding a large black tire salbabida. Under her breath she said,  “‘Yan ba ang being nice to yourself? (Sering, Getting Better 68)

Structurally speaking, I prefer “Getting Better” to Amazing Grace, which is also told from a second person point-of-view, although lacking in weight. If in the former, the reader gets a whiff of Something Fishy, the rest of the narrative finally reveals that the problem per se isn’t what Kar first believes but is actually something else. In Amazing Grace, meanwhile, right off the bat readers are told what went down and why Grace is Holly Golightly in tears on the first page.

The problem, I think, is that Amazing Grace unknowingly paralleled the show it’s a pun of. The revelation that leads to character development could have happened earlier, but not without the fuel the rest of the novel needs to go on, so what happens is a long drawn out narrative that almost (just almost!, never fear) crosses into wild goose chase territory.

But the charm is still there–if not in Grace and her (in)consistency, then in her two travel companions, Lena and Han. Not all of us might be able to relate to Grace’s problem of tracking a cheating fiance across Singapore and Bangkok, but Grace’s (in)consistency, contrasted with Han as urban girl without rest while nursing a broken heart and Lena as married woman desiring space and quality bonding time with the girls, succeeds in nudging readers towards the direction of Total Life Enjoyment.

As in “Getting Better,” though, the moment of enlightenment in Amazing Grace stretches into relaxed breathing after the chaos of Something Fishy, Revealed. While I believe the latter’s epilogue was unnecessary (I think inference is always a fun activity for the reader), Grace arrives at much the same place Kar does, because she’s able to look past the chaos, and find peace in her own self.

Feel a light breeze blow through the alfresco cafe. Trace the wrinkled bark of the tree next to you, from the trunk all the way up along its branches. There is something nice and wonderful, you think, in the way its top looms large with a burst of green leaves against the sun (Sering, Amazing Grace 180).


Andrea Macalino is a graduate student of Comparative Literature. This was published in her blog in May 2012.