By Rebekah Hunt
The Weight of the Sun, a short story collection by Geronimo Tagatac, is one of my favorite books on our backlist. The stories are set up as separate pieces in a compilation, but they share a common thread that connects them all. Initially, I found the transitions between stories jarring and disorienting. Upon rereading, I found that I still do; however, the disjointed rhythm lends a surreal quality to the experience that I find appropriate to the author’s storytelling style. The experiences he relates are meant to be jarring and surreal because life is that way.
In the story “Archangel,” a young woman stops the main character at a cafeteria and asks if he reads Hemingway. This moment sums up the impression the collection left on me: it’s a lot like Hemingway. The prose strikes the ear like heavy drumbeats, but there is an ethereal quality as if one is hearing a war party receding into the distance. Mundane and everyday settings take on a mythic quality as they are filtered through the minds of characters who are not mundane themselves. There is always a strong and vibrant sense of place, the dialogue is sparse, and we learn the most about the characters from how they relate to their surroundings.
While the style is reminiscent of Hemingway’s short stories, these stories have more heart. Where Hemingway is objective and shies away from emotion, Tagatac places you in the character’s shoes and forces you to feel what they feel, particularly when it is painful. And this collection is fraught with pain. Farm laborers, dancers, cooks, soldiers, children left alone with strangers; these are the people whose experiences we take on, whose pain we feel, who live in the same world we live in, and yet seem to live more in it than we do.
The author is thoroughly acquainted with pain and seems to seek, through his prose, to make others acquainted with it as well. But he doesn’t try to create schmaltzy, tear-jerking moments or lead us into any kind of realization about ourselves. He simply evokes pity. Not pity in the negative, insulting sense that the word has taken on in recent years, but pure, honest pity for the suffering of other people. While the characters are not like us, are in situations we will never be in, and have experiences we cannot relate to, their plain, simple, brutal, beautiful humanity binds us to them and speaks a language we cannot ignore. The language of humanity. The Weight of the Sun tells the story of what it is to be human.