by Andrea N. Macalino
▶︎ There’s something always captivating about spirits, gods, and magic lying in wait—and that’s true in the imagination as much as it is in lived reality. The sources of such, too, are both local and international: here, a popular fantaserye has earned a revival, while early to mid-2000s nostalgia has made itself felt via the newly released screenplay for the eighth Harry Potter story.
Similarly, Eliza Victoria’s "Wounded Little Gods" (Visprint, 2016) promises the presence of local divinities around us. Set mainly in the fictional town of Heridos, it revolves around Regina who, despite having grown up around stories of the town’s local gods, has always been skeptical about them. But eventually, like Regina, the rest of Heridos forgets about the gods, too.
A curious quest A return, of course, is inevitable. When Diana, Regina’s new officemate, tells her of a deep interest in eugenics and then disappears, the protagonist is left with only a map of Heridos and two names to discover what has happened to Diana.
Though curious, it however isn’t clear what is at stake for Regina. She might be intrigued by the connection between Diana’s disappearance and her hometown, but through it all the reader is never thoroughly convinced of the quest’s urgency.
In the midst of these events, it’s clear that something inhuman is involved—an unfortunate development for Regina, as the “inhuman” refers not only to the probable interference of gods, but also to the inhumane, to the horror of eugenics and how closely it hits home.
Daily possibilities The plot is fast-paced enough to excite. It captivates by presenting both sleepy-town and urban lifestyles as recognizable, only with the probability of something spectacular. From Regina’s mundane job in Makati—complete with fears of getting stranded in traffic due to inclement weather—to the local but inane gossip that welcomes her back to Heridos, there is something all-too-familiar in her daily struggles.
What is implied, then, is the promise that something thrilling lies within reach of the standard employee, the jaded yuppie, or the average millennial. In the novel’s simple descriptions of filial interactions, computer shop settings, and the stain of fallen duhat on the road, is also the suggestion that both myth-making and sci-fi horror are accessible in the realm of the everyday.
This accessibility, sadly, does not pay off.
Sure, the probability of an all-too human Regina coming face-to-face with the spirits and gods she once doubted is fulfilled. However, the encounter is simply that: a face-off between personalities. Although the gods and spirits are humanized somewhat (and isn’t there always a particular voyeuristic joy in that?), so many of the novel’s early themes are abandoned that readers might feel short-changed. The issue, for instance, of eugenics is waylaid to make enough room for the divine mistakes that ultimately make an impact on Regina’s life without her even knowing it.
At the same time, the use of harried descriptions in the novel work against it when revelations are made. Indeed, it feels as though substantial language was sacrificed to allow for certain cause-and-effect scenes at the end.
Still, the novel is not without merit. After all, it asks some difficult questions. For instance, how do we qualify someone as human? To what extent does a person’s usefulness determine his or her worth? Though enjoyable and action-packed, however, Wounded Little Gods still leaves the reader hoping for a better articulation of its inquiries. ***
Andrea N. Macalino is a fictionist currently finishing her graduate studies in Comparative Literature at the University of the Philippines. This review was previously published in the Sunday Times Magazine, August 2016.