'Powerful fiction' of transgression and scandal
Aguila’s ‘Carnival of Hate’

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LITERATURE professor Augusto Aguila ventures into dark territory in his latest short

story collection that tackles sexual transgressions and academic scandals.

Carnival of Hate: Stories (UST Publishing House, 2016) consists of eight short stories

that deal with topics “not usually seen in Philippine fiction,” as Ralph Galan, assistant

director of the Center for Creative Writing and Literary Studies (CCWLS), points out in

the blurb.

Perhaps representative of the collection is “The Whole New Nameless Thing,” about

closet-gay Keith who has had a one-night stand with Nina and in the aftermath, has a

conversation with an owl-shaped clock on the wall, Mr. Owl, and a pink rectangle on the

curtains, Ms. Rectangle.

The two inanimate objects, and the three’s deepening exchange, both serve as

metaphor for Keith’s guilty conscience and the naked truth of this sexuality.

The collection’s title story, “Carnival of Hate,” is a re-imagination of “Inferno,” the first

part of the classic Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri. Here, “Dante” that would travel

Hell is instead Dickson, a gluttonous vice-president of a company who has recently died

from bangungot. A Virgil resembling the Australian actor Eric Bana ushers him into the

netherworld.

What mostly serve as impetus of the narrative are not heavy descriptions of Hell but

rather the titillating dialogue between Dickson and Virgil.

“F A B” deals with the life of James Valderama, an honor student whose family has

joined the nouveau riche through the efforts of his father, a celebrity lawyer.

The story revolves around James’s membership in Valkyrie, a fraternity in his university,

as he has been recruited by its mysterious leader named Tyler.

Because of their high living, Valkyrie members indulge in sex and drugs, and “F A B,” as

the title implies, is a social critique of the lifestyle of the fab and the nefarious.

“The Shop” involves a probinsiyana who seeks greener pastures in Manila. Lina, a 19-

year-old girl from Mantoc, finds employment in a shop that sells sex toys named Private

Heaven (“PH”) in Malate.

Although Lina, dubbed “Zoe the school girl,” initially has a fine run at PH, she soon

becomes bound to her tragic fate because she works in a place of transgression and

risk.

Aguila exposes conflicts among members of the academe in two different stories. “The

Contest” tracks the unraveling of professional relationships between teachers following

an oversight in a literary contest, resulting in bitter division and disarray.

In “Smokescreen,” Aguila tells the story of a flamboyant faculty member named Richard

Teodoro “Ricketts” Revelacion who receives the ire of his colleagues for his “sharp

tongue and street humor” and for commanding his colleagues to do things for him.

Tragedy as fact of human life is framed in “A Condition of Worship,” as the protagonist

named Jerry longs for the affections of the much younger Justin. His expectations are

raised following a visit from a voluptuous saint named Saint Voodah who prophesizes

that a sign will appear in the volleyball game where Justin is a player.

Jerry is soon distraught when the sign from Saint Voodah ultimately works against his

desire.

A similar situation occurs in “The Prankster” as teenager Toby is ever eager to play

pranks on the elderly by announcing that he is “The Son of Satan.” However, he must

face the consequences of his own actions as a shadowy figure enters his life.

Carnival of Hate has been lauded by New York-based writer Tim Tomlinson who

compares Aguila’s stories to celebrated works such as Lino Brocka’s film “Maynila sa

Kuko ng Liwanag (Manila in the Claws of Light), Donna Tartt’s novel “The Secret

History” and Thomas Mann’s novella “Death in Venice.”

Cristina Pantoja Hidalgo, CCWLS director, describes Aguila as a writer who is “able to

face the monster without flinching […] determined to stare it down,” and his collection is

a “powerful fiction” that exists in the “dusty corners of the world.”

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