Eternal questions of human vices and virtues in the “family” saga by Jessica Hagedorn “Dogeaters”
The novel “Dogeaters” by Jessica Hagedorn is a fusion of genres, a piece of writing that doesn’t fall into any conventional category as it combines the features of historical fiction, drama and satire, realistic fiction and tall tale, placing the main characters in true-to-life historical setting in Manila during the Marcos regime in the 50s, and at the same time portraying some eternal common human problems. The narration is very elaborately embroidered with Filipino words which form an organic unity with English words not restricting the comprehension of the story. The reader is not required to know the meaning of these foreign words – they are used as terms, nouns in apposition or cover the words that might not pass the censorship desk. The writer describes the everyday life of several protagonists and their families, whose lives are intricately interrelated and interconnected in one way or another and remind the reader one big, fussy family with all its quarrels and collisions.
The extract under consideration depicts two young girls – cousins Rio and Pucha Gonzaga with the younger cousin Rio acting as a narrator. They both come from rather a well-off family and spend their lives idly visiting beauty salons, cafes and movies, worshiping everything “glamorous” and taking an active part in the life of the local high society to the degree which is allowed to them by their parents and relatives. While Rio is the one who detests the shallowness of their routines, the hypocrisy of their environment and snobbish attitudes of their circle, Pucha absorbs all the poisonous reflections of sins that are an inseparable part of Manila high society.
The country is a former colony of the United States and is attempting to acquire the same prosperity and development as its ex-sovereign, but at the same time still preserves the authentic ethnic flavor in policies, attitudes and relations which might seem uncivilized and too down-to-earth. Rio’s father Freddie works for Severo Alacran and his family, a very influential political and financial figure in Manila society. The Gonzagas, being the representatives of an upper middle class are privileged to be accepted in the Alacran household and their children, Rio and her brother Raul, call Mr and Mrs Alacran “Tito” and “Tita” – uncle and aunt. Rio’s mother feels free to spend her husband’s money to maintain her beauty as her main capital. She has a lover and is aware of the fact that her husband isn’t faithful to her either.
Their union is nothing but a marriage of convenience. Severo Alacran has some business connections with General Nicasio Ledesma, who is also a powerful social figure and not a model of high morals. So the author describes his relations with an excessively religious wife and, at the same time, his relations with some movie star and drug abuser Lolita Luna. There are some more threads of the story picturing the routines of the Alacrans …