Following on from my last reading list, this time we tackle two bestsellers and one classic. As usual, two fiction reads and one nonfiction book comprise my reading list. I start off with David Baldacci’s latest. Dream Town is the third instalment in his Aloysius Archer series. The book picks off from last year’s A Gambling Man, with the titular character battling the baddies in Tinseltown for a change. Next up is Nick Joaquin’s story collection. I’ve made it a point to read more fiction anthologies this year. What better way to brush up than by perusing the finest English-writing Filipino writer. Finally, I tackle The Power of Regret. Daniel Pink’s self-help title charted on the Times Best Sellers. Regret is a lovely exploration into one of our least understood emotions.
1. Dream Town. (David Baldacci). The book opens with New Year’s Eve 1953. Archer has been hanging out in LA with his friend, Liberty Callahan. They go through two balls, where Archer meets Eleanor Lamb. The latter learns that he’s an investigator and hires him. She gives off a damsel in distress vibe. Archer visits her place to find a dead PI. Clues lead him to The Jade, a Chinatown bar. Along the way, he interviews a few connected women who knew Lamb. He is able to get out of tight spots as a result of his military training and some luck. He continues to work with his boss, Willie Dash. During this outing, the latter will save his skin.
He teases out a connection between Lamb and her French neighbours. He also links a Las Vegas goon to the Jade. Apparently, some famous people are indebted to the latter, which forces them to do his bidding. At The Jade, he meets this young star, who turns out to be the goon’s ex. He promises to liberate her from his clutches. As a result of his investigation, he drives to chic places: from the shores of Malibu to the mansions of Bel-Air; from the studios in Hollywood to a bonkers finale in Lake Tahoe. He likewise heads to Anaheim and its orange groves to seek answers. Baldacci does not play all his cards until the end. Thus, this makes for one helluva thrill ride.
The ending was bittersweet. Of course, Archer would score but he will lose too. Like its predecessors, the novel was a homage to the fifties. The landlines, vintage wheels, and Marilyn Manson hark back to the earlier era. I liked that the chapters were short and mostly to the point. The series has some likeable characters and the period setting was intriguing. It gave us a glimpse of what it was like to be in our grandparents’s shoes. While I enjoyed the title, I wasn’t a fan of too much attire description. Baldacci definitely overdid this. All in all, I can understand why this book trended on bestsellers lists.
2. The Woman Who Had Two Navels and Tales of the Tropical Gothic. (Nick Joaquin). This was my first foray into Joaquin’s prose. This is on the heels of Murakami’s anthology, which I took in a few months prior. Murakami’s omnibus was set mainly in Japan. He employed magical realism and a few cats. Joaquin’s works were even older. Some were set in 19th century Philippines, then under Spanish control. There is also magical realism, with a dash of gothic tones. Joaquin’s fiction has variety, including in length. They range from a dozen to seventy pages.
There were ten short stories in this ebook. I managed to finish seven of them. One look at the backend play made me wary. The titular story was based in Hong Kong. These tales concern Pinoy expats, students, superstitions, religion, post colonialism, and generation gaps. Filo slang adds colour to the narrative. The title is like a snapshot into both pre and postwar Philippines. Even though it’s an old book, one could feel the nostalgia from a bygone era. Before computers and social media, kids played sport. They ate meals and attended Mass together. Without technology to distract them, they were more caring towards their elders. Often, three generations lived under one roof.
Like a majority of literary fiction, this one wasn’t easy to digest. I had a love hate relationship with Joaquin’s work. The author has especially long sentences that go on for half a page. He constructs lists that are two dozen deep. The dialogue could be laborious to read through. Finally, his character count is excessive for the chosen genre. Any astute writer would know that you shouldn’t have more than five speaking characters. Two main ones, and another two or three minor roles. In his seventy-page stories, he has topped what is acceptable characterisation for a short story. I guess though that this is a result of playing with the genre: a hybrid form that defies conventions. On the plus side, a few of his stories were addictive. You couldn’t wait for the next bite. Regardless, this marks the fourth ebook I’ve crested this year.
3. The Power of Regret (Daniel H. Pink). I read this and Joaquin’s collection simultaneously. There’s no doubt that Daniel’s book was well-researched. In many ways, it reads like an academic text, complete with notes and a plethora of studies. The author created The World Regret Survey, where he compiled, collated, and analysed data in the biggest such undertaking ever. The chapters begin with three regrets from anonymous critters. They only supply their gender, age, and country.
The book is divided into three parts: regrets reclaimed, regrets revealed, and regrets remade. The first section is an unpacking of the emotion. Daniel tries to reimagine our understanding of the term, with help from decades of research. He always incorporates anecdotes that colours the narrative. This reminded me a bit of The Subtle Art, another bestseller. Most importantly, he elucidates on the concept of at least and if only. In this chapter, he uses the analogy of the Olympic medalists. The champion beams the widest while the bronze medallist is likewise jubilant. However, the silver medallist is most disappointed. Though second-best, they always ponder the what if.
In his research, Daniel uncovers four main types of regrets, which he expands in the next section. Foundation regrets are deep seated and spring from a rumination with the past. Boldness regrets ponder on the ‘thwarted possibilities of growth’. Moral regrets are more subtle, as one’s judgment is variable. However, these subsume such quandaries as deceit, betrayal and infidelity. Finally, connection regrets involves the fracture of meaningful relationships. Since humans are societal beings, lost connections will cause awkwardness. We always think of the worst while research shows that these fears are usually misplaced.
The last bit puts the argument in context. Daniel asserts that we should not dwell on the past, especially if we have a chance to learn from it and improve the present. He likewise posits that jotting down and sharing your regrets will lessen your burden. Meanwhile, anticipating regret is a double edged sword. The main body is only 211 pages but feels more substantial with the amount of material included. For me, it took about a week to finish. There aren’t many regrets books out there but this one was enlightening.