Tara Sering reviews Milflores book

TRUTH BE TOLD - A review of Love, Desire, Children, Etc.; Reflections of a Young Wife
by Tara Ft. Sering

Last year, Alfred A. Knopf published a collection of Nora Ephron’s personal essays entitled I Feel Bad About My Neck and Other Thoughts on Being a Woman. Among the pieces was one called “Considering the Alternative”, previously published in American Vogue, in which Ephron laments turning 64, and all that it implied—fewer options in swimwear, the possibility of illness, the death of friends.

At a time when even fashion magazines are trotting out regular specials on “looking good at any age”, and offering clothing options for women at every decade of their lives—all the way to 80—Ephron dares to express her true feelings about getting old, and they’re by no means upbeat nor are they punctuated with the grateful, “But! I have no regrets.” On the contrary, Ephron reveals she has many regrets, and asks, “Why do people write books that say it’s better to be older than younger? It’s not better.”

Bleak views on aging aside (for which one Vogue reader took the time out to write the editor and express her dismay over Ephron’s pessimism), I Feel Bad About My Neck smacks of the Ephron who penned the screenplay When Harry Met Sally…: witty, insightful, well-written, and thoroughly entertaining.

Ephron’s book rekindled my interest in nonfiction narratives, especially those written by women, and evidently, I am on the slow wagon. Among last year’s bestselling books is the hugely popular Eat, Pray, Love (Penguin Books) by Elizabeth Gilbert, a chronicle of the author’s year of soul-searching in various countries whose names quite aptly begin with I (Italy, India, Indonesia). Millions of readers have enjoyed Gilbert’s book that is, all at once, diary/confession/travelogue/history. Perhaps one of Gilbert’s biggest fans is my sister, who has taken to giving copies of the book as gifts, and who reports that it is always sold out at PowerBooks and Fully Booked.

Suitably inspired to explore the art of the tell-all, I decided that, for an upcoming session, the National Book Development Board’s Book Club, of which I’m moderator, would be discussing a collection of nonfiction narratives by Rica Bolipata-Santos, whom I had met at a recent writing workshop. At the workshop, Rica and I chatted incessantly over coffee, then tea, then platters of pasta, about each other’s personal lives like old friends with a lot of catching up to do. She told me about growing up in a family of artists, in the formidable shadows cast by her celebrated musician brothers. I told her about my ill-researched weight loss strategies. She also told me she was simply incapable of lying. I told her, “That’s just crazy.” “That’s why nga I write nonfiction,” she explained.

I mostly write fiction and spend much of my time slopping fictional dough over my characters so that no one in my family, or my circle of friends, can categorically accuse me of revealing their dark secrets. (Instead, I sometimes get long, thoughtful stares that at some point turn hostile).

So last Saturday afternoon, I received my copy of Rica’s Love, Desire, Children, Etc: Reflections of a Young Wife (Milflores Publishing, Inc) sent by the NBDB, and with a hot mug of green tea, I curled up to read and prepare notes for the group discussion. It is a slim volume with a purple cover, and on the cover is a rather festive and colorful illustration of a mother and her child. Pretty sweet, friendly stuff, and I figured I would be done in a couple of hours. Six hours later, I had read nine out of the13 beautifully written essays and had run out of little sneaky ways—re-reading passages, unearthing old diaries to look for similar sentiments, making more tea, pacing, thinking, staring into space—of prolonging the read.

There are some books you don’t want to end, and this one of them. And then there are some books by women that, for their humor, insight, and sheer honesty (especially if you relate to it as a woman, and if the author is someone you’ve actually met) can be a bit of a challenge to read (“You did what?!” best describes the general feeling you might get when you hit certain passages). This is also one of them.

For me, the idea of writing confessional nonfiction (read: spilling the beans, airing your laundry in public, baring your soul, swinging the spotlight on your life and your startled family—artfully) holds the same charm as crossing Ayala Avenue on a busy Monday morning wearing nothing but a poker face and a pair of platform stilettos. I would love to do such a wildly daring feat, but only if I knew for sure that everyone who witnesses it will develop blanket amnesia, and that I get to keep the shoes.
While reading Love, Children, Desire, Etc, I must have gotten up from my seat at least a dozen times, and consumed approximately a liter of tea. The first piece, entitled “A Bow to My God”, explores the author’s relationship with her larger-than-life mother, and how that relationship has shaped the author’s own path as a writer. It also details the author’s childhood attempt at writing, and how what she initially perceived as her mother’s disapproval of her work led her to forget about writing for many years thereafter. Mother-daughter relationships are often incredibly complex, and oftentimes it is from this complexity that the beautiful emerges. When, at the end of the essay, Rica writes, “I cannot promise to be unlike my mother”, I got up, took a long sip of tea, and thought, “My sentiments exactly.”

And then the book gets even more exciting—or challenging, depending on what kind of reader you are—especially when the author delves into the history of her own sexuality, beginning in grade school (when she wanted to be a Trappist nun), all through high school (when she completely forgot about the nunnery, preoccupied as she was with other, more intriguing things such as high school dances and boys), all the way to married life.

At certain points, I found myself reluctant to flip to the next page out of a sense of delicious suspense. As a teenager, I always knew when things were heating up in a Sweet Dreams book, and I could sense a kiss, or a makeout session, happening somewhere from several pages away.

Love, Desire, Children, Etc., which has won the Madrigal-Gonzalez First Book Award, becomes truly affecting when the author wades through her adventures and misadventures as a wife and, more importantly, a mother. The essays, in all their honesty, and despite their detail, seem to reflect a broader experience that isn’t often talked about. For instance, of the complicated joys of motherhood, the author writes, “Still, I would have preferred unblinking honesty. I would have appreciated it if someone sat me down and told me how much my heart would have to take. I would have been grateful beyond all telling if someone sat me down and told me outright that there would be real moments when I would hate having children. I would have saved myself an enormous amount of guilt if someone had told me that grieving would be part of the landscape.”

And that is exactly what you get from Rica’s book—unblinking honesty amid the familiar experiences, the truths that resonate, and the humor that turns a pain to something tender.

(The National Book Development Board’s Book Club will meet to discuss Rica Bolipata Santos’s Love, Desire, Children, Etc.; Reflections of a Young Wife (Winner of the prestigious 2007 Madrigal-Gonzalez First Book Award) on May 30, 2008, at 4:00 pm, at Cafea, Sgt. Esguerra St, Quezon City. Rica will be around to answer questions and sign books. Interested in joining the discussion and meeting the author? Call the NBDB at 9268238 or e-mail oed@nbdb.gov.ph.)

Posted on May 28, 2008