When this story was chosen as one of our short stories for the month, I became excited at the prospect of reading another unknown Filipino author. I have not read or even familiar with any of Leoncio P. Deriada’s works but I still looked forward to our first meeting. “The Dog Eaters” is a story about an impoverished couple, Mariana and Victor. As the story opens, the two are fighting about Victor’s habit of drinking with his friends in the middle of the day while eating dog meat. To exacerbate their situation, Mariana is also with child, her second, and she fears that this second child will worsen their already impoverished situation. This leads her to spiral into what can be called as rage and, in the end, she is driven to do something that she believes is revenge for what her husband did to her.
I’m sad to say that my introduction to Deriada made me believe that “The Dog Eaters” may be one of the worst short stories that I have read. My main problem with the story is its technique which was nonexistent. Its figurative language was horrible and its actual language was bloated. The story is filled with details that do nothing for the story or for the development of its characters, the dialogue is rudimentary including a part where Mariana describes dog meat through an onomatopoeiacally-laughable “aw aw meat”, and a squandered ending.
The story had so much potential due to its subject matter. It could be a mouthpiece for a discussion on poverty, animal rights, gender equality, and so much more yet it fell short despite the author’s obvious desire to discuss these things. The reader is then left with a husk of a story, a useless husk that begins with promise yet, in the end, offers nothing. In one of the parts of the story, the couple’s quarrel turns to the subject of their second child. Mariana does not want to have it and has prepared to drink a potion given to her by the local witch doctor so that she can abort the baby. Victor objects to this and cites his manhood, his assertion that the baby is his, and even religion in order to dissuade Mariana from her decision. This section was an obvious attempt at enhancing the story’s depth yet it failed because there was no proper setup except an incompetently written flashback. I felt nothing for the characters nor for their situation because they were empty characters whose only function was to spout dialogue.
“Is it effective?” Mariana asked nervously.
“Very effective. Come on let me touch you.”
Mariana stood directly in front of the old woman, her belly her belly almost touching the vendor’s face. Aling Elpidia felt Mariana’s belly with both hands.
“Three months did you say, Mariana?”
“Three months and two weeks.”
“Are you sure you don’t want this child?” Aling Elpidia asked one hand flat on Mariana’s belly. “It feels so healthy.”
“I don’t want another child,” Mariana said. And to stress the finality of her decision, she grabbed the bottle and stepped away from the old woman. The bottle looked like atrophy in her hand.
It doesn’t help that the copy that I read was filled with grammatical and spelling errors that may or may not be the fault of the author. Yet its syntax can only do so much. Even an Alice Munro story filled with errors in grammar and spelling can never shed its true soul and nuance.
In the end, reading “The Dog Eaters” exhausted me in a bad way. By the story’s midpoint, I already wanted it to end and each successive word into the story felt pointless. I doubt if I’ll ever read a story by Deriada ever again.
From: Dogeaters and Other Plays