Dogeaters, Jessica Hagedorn, 1990
- Philippines, #21
- Kindle edition, $12
- Read May 2018
- Rating: 4/5
- Recommended for: coked-up Coen brothers fans
Dogeaters is a chaotic explosion of images and ideas, a tangle of interconnecting and contradictory storylines criss-crossing with speeches by William McKinley, quotes from Jean Mallat, dreams and gossip and fake newspaper articles, with approximately five hundred and seventy characters, each more outrageous than the last. It is a darkly comic pastiche to appeal to the most dogged of postmodernists. It is also a play, adapted by Hagedorn from her own novel, and I would love to see it (it was described in a Variety review as “exuberant but unwieldy,” which…yeah). I can’t even imagine how they manage to fill seven hundred and eighty-three different roles (I’m guessing there’s a lot of double casting), so unwieldy doesn’t even begin to describe it.
But all one thousand, two hundred and forty-six different characters in this giant cast are brilliantly devised and are really what stand out in my mind after reading the book. There is, for instance, Joey Sands, small-time hustler and smack addict, who shacks up for a week with a sad German film director, in town for a festival hosted by Imelda Marcos; there’s the outspoken senator Domingo Avila (a stand-in for Benigno Aquino, whose assassination in 1983 catalyzed the resistance that eventually led to the Marcoses rout and exile; Avila’s assassination similarly provides a focal point for many of the seemingly disconnected narratives in Dogeaters); there’s Avila’s daughter, Daisy, a beauty queen who is detained by the president’s interrogators and ends up as a guerrilla; there’s the corrupt businessman Severo Alacran, one of the president’s cronies; there’s his daughter, “Baby,” tragically timid and wishing for peace; there are the Marcoses themselves, appearing in fantastically bizarre scenes such as the one wherein Imelda begins spontaneously singing during an interview with an American journalist; there are approximately three thousand and seventy-eight other interesting characters, but honestly I’m boring myself now and I just want to finish this blog post so I’m going to stop there. I’ll just wrap up by saying that this is the most enjoyable book about a terrifying military dictatorship that I have read to date.