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Stories From Another Time (review)
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One cannot help but associate Stories From Another Time with a kind of vehement nostalgia. There is an innocence in the many young boys of these stories who must eventually experience the heartbreak of change, a change that curdles up idealism into bitterness. A young boy in "Sin" trades a silver medallion, his mother's gift, for a shiny red airplane, which inevitably cracks to pieces. In "New Songs to Sing," a boy with a God-given voice must come to terms with new desires and a changing body: "My voice had changed and I with it, and everything was gone; I had nothing" (6). In "Batman and Robin," Joey realizes he cannot continue to play the dynamic duo with his father, because his mother, the one who made the fantasy possible, has passed away. Finally, in "My Father's Son," Carlito must not only accept the fact of his venerated father's death, but also the new, unbearable truth of his father's flaws come to light.

In other stories, the young men are defenders and preservers of the good 'ol days of youth, who "wrote of God and beauty and true love that never died" (69). But the girls they give their hearts to, in "About Nora," "All the Girls Named Lydia," "The Girl Across the Street," and "A Girl Named Emong," are forgetful, false-hearted, or fickle. In the last story, the young narrator finds himself at least partially at fault:

I thought it would be wrong for Emong to change. She should remain the way she was all her life. She was fresh and honest and unaffected and, most important, she was herself. She was Emong and she should never change and I wanted to go up to her and tell her that but alcohol was always one stimulant that had the effects of a sedative on me . . .

(112)

Because he chooses to spend more time with a favorite starlet rather than with Emong, who is his truer friend, and before he could affirm Emong for being "unaffected and natural and straightforward" (110), she has already turned into one of the "tired synthetic people" whom he despises.

The author, Benjamin Bautista, himself claims he is interested in the conflicts and contradictions of his characters' lives. If he wrote "dark, tragic stories," it was because he thought "they reflected a more serious, more authentic perspective" (xvii). Indeed, there is nothing of the farcical or superficial in his roster of characters: earnest students, old fathers, bright ladies, uptight girls, and jocular friends. They all carry in their hearts a spiritedness that calls to mind Dylan Thomas's line: "Rage, rage against the dying of the light." His characters struggle for light—whether the light means a lover's solemn vow to love always, or a father's reputation as a gentleman of the old school—often fruitlessly, for the light unavoidably dwindles and dies.

Such is the life that Bautista presents, though historically, his stories are set in

a period of peace and predictability without the turmoil, unrest and radical rage of the years to come. Life, if not entirely blissful, was simpler, untroubled, and a few of the stories in this book reflect the awkward, artless, innocence of the time.

(xvi)

The time might perhaps be innocent, but there appear tension, "turmoil," and "unrest" in most—if not all—his stories. Poverty demeans a man in "A Christmas Story," the helplessness of old age plagues another in "Sampaguitas for Tonight," the loss of life ruins a husband and wife in "The Baby in the Bottle," and an attempt at suicide shows up a would-be man in "The Boy." What is perhaps "innocent" or "artless" too may lie in each story's conviction that the struggle for light, no matter how foolish, daunting, or hopeless, rises from the passionate heart of the protagonist, who wishes to safeguard all that he or she holds dear—truth, love, beauty, selfhood—and in the process denies change, progress, perhaps even choice.

In "The Baby in the Bottle," Mr. Libre lives a half-life of routine, shuttling from home to work and back to home again. He shares his home with...


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