“He shrugged, puzzled, opened the door and found he was overlooking a mosh pit working itself into frenzy. The sound of thumping bass, drums and guitars got louder.”
In Karl R. de Mesa’s News of the Shaman, literary moshing and bodyslam are taken to the next level of the imagination. Jazzy and frenetic as only de Mesa can pen it (who is probably a tad spunkier than beat era fictionist Jack Kerouac), this collection of stories delve into worlds where quiet tours into the human condition are not found; only the awesome and spectacularly gothic live here, where one’s sense of being is most strangely linked with the rough feel of sizzle in the grass, the scent of blood-red cumulus from a distance, and the slow rumbling of unpronounced verbs from a drum. Definitely working itself into frenzy.
It’s one of those books that most poignantly show freshness and originality, but not the way most readers understand the terms. The book’s freshness has nothing of daffodils in it. Originality for de Mesa apparently breaks the rigors of tradition if only to spur the public into a winding spell, or a perennial state of transience, bravely straddling worlds and words, consciences and hallways, doors, floors, time and grime—and the quintessential washroom—places no sunrise would dare touch:
“Before he can open his pants, however, he coughs, and the cough quickly turns into a deep, growling phlegm fit. He directs his mouth over the urinal just in time to point the green and yellow vomit that comes out of his lips. At first it’s just a dribble, timid and slow, then it promptly turns into a forceful surge that reminds me of the way water from a fireman’s hose is so powerfully expelled when the hydrant if first turned on. By this time he’s bent nearly double over the urinal and the small sink that is only built to catch piss is overflowing with the wretched, half-digested remains of his dinner, lunch and breakfast. Complete with clues.”
No, it’s not an attempt to uselessly shock and awe, to grab the reader in a vice-grip of stunningly crafted images, or the things we’d rather not read about. Apparently, the nature and tone of his stories demand the grotesque in everyday life, the bizarre and grossly misshapen cogs that wheel us into literary sleeplessness, or flurry. News of the Shaman gives one a peek into worlds thick with seraphs and lovers, wizards, bishops, nuno and duendes, and corporate disciples with even less moral bearing than an imaginary Hitler after solvent rehab. De Mesa was even kind enough to give stocky elfins a face and Florsheims.
What stuns the senses more than the goths and froths in the mouth is de Mesa’s arresting honesty in the midst of literary portrayal. Perhaps, without even de Mesa knowing it, he discloses more than what his mind could ever admit to enjoying:
“I rummage and jackpot! It’s a black bra with a bonus: lacy, translucent undies, almost see-through, those maybe-I’ll-get-lucky kind you find in any woman’s wardrobe. Booty. I pick up the bra first and sniff. Still the same old Rico’s Mom scent: equal parts sweet honey, salty sea and the faint trace of musk. I realize I’ve gone to sit on the bed with the panties on my lap and that I’m clutching the bra to my nose. My head is swimming like a cyanide-bonked fish.”
If Karl de Mesa says its salty sea, then salty sea it is.
Surely fantastic fiction can never be anything but fantastic. But with Karl de Mesa and the madness by which he pursues his duendes and vampyres and magicks, the literary world will have to brace itself as it reaps spectacular fiction.
JOEL PABLO SALUD is the chief editor of the Philippines Graphic magazine, the country’s top newsweekly publication under the ALC Group of Publications, which include the BusinessMirror. He is a member of the Unyon ng Manunulat sa Pilipinas (UMPIL) and the Manila Critics Circle. He regularly writes reviews for the Philippines Graphic Review of Literature.