Twisted by Jessica Zafra – Pumping irony since 1994

Archive for March, 2013

Books we would kill to have written: Household’s stone-cold thriller

March 31, 2013 By: jessicazafra Category: Books 2 Comments →

Rogue Male by Geoffrey Household

The most thrilling thriller we’ve ever read, published in 1939 as Europe stood on the brink of war. On the first page, the unidentified narrator tries to take out Hitler with a hunting rifle. He is caught, tortured and thrown off a cliff. Amazingly he survives. He examines his injuries—”My nails are growing back but my left eye is still pretty useless…I felt as if the back of my thighs and rump had been shorn off, pulled off, scraped off—off, however done. I had parted, obviously and irrevocably, with a lot of my living matter.”

Somehow he manages to escape to his home, England, only to find that Hitler’s stooges are after him. What follows is an extraordinary pursuit story: no nail shall be left unchewed. The narrator knows he cannot hide in London and he cannot risk getting other people involved. So he takes off for open country, Dorset, but not before a breathtaking chase in the London underground. Have you seen Melville’s Samurai? This is better. Why didn’t Hitchcock film this? The adaptation by Fritz Lang doesn’t come close to the source.

After several days on the run he finds a hideout—a holloway, a sunken lane by a farm. (Robert Macfarlane went looking for that holloway.) He digs in, but he knows it’s only a matter of time before his enemies find him…

A cat (the narrator calls him Asmodeus) plays an essential role. “Asmodeus, as always, is my comfort. It is seldom that one can give to and receive from an animal close, silent and continuous attention. We live in the same space, in the same way, and on the same food, except that Asmodeus has no need for oatmeal, nor I for field-mice. During the hours while he sits cleaning himself, and I motionless in my dirt, there is, I believe, some slight though transference between us. I cannot ‘order’ or even ‘hope’ that he should perform a given act, but back and forth between us go thoughts of fear and disconnected dreams of action. I should call these dreams madness, did I not know they came from him and that his mind is, by our human standards, mad.”


The winner of the March LitWit Challenge is No Permanent Address by Ronigurl

March 28, 2013 By: jessicazafra Category: Books, Contest 1 Comment →

We like this story because while it is personal it acknowledges the outside world and the mysteries of life. Too many of the entries are one-note: Me Me Me Me Me. They’re talking to themselves. This works if the language is fascinating; we’re not quite there yet. Why should we be interested in them when they’re not interested in us?

No Permanent Address tackles a social reality without getting preachy. The narrator starts out as a bored, self-absorbed youngster; by the end she has discovered compassion. She learns about herself by interacting with other people. In the process she gains a little knowledge of the world.

Also, the gun that appears early in the story is fired near the end. (Read A Brief History of Chekhov’s Gun in Breaking Bad.)

Jessie and Heisenberg Breaking Bad
Jesse and Heisenberg in Breaking Bad

Congratulations, Ronigurl! You or your representative can pick up your prize at National Bookstore, Power Plant Mall, Rockwell, Makati starting Tuesday, April 2. Just go to the Customer Service counter (telephone 8974562) and give your full name.

The next LitWit Challenge is in April.

Here is the winning piece, in our edit.

No Permanent Address

No TV, no books, no radio, and no neighbors for kilometers. This hell was my summer. I was sent to the boondocks where I could spend time with my grandparents so my Mom would have one less mouth to feed. At least the grandies were rich enough to have running water from faucets and a toilet and bath, not like others in this province who only had holes in the ground and a wooden plank to squat on. We also had a half-finished swimming pool with no tiles and no water, and a big lawn with no gardener.

Giant sea monster takes a dump on Manila

March 28, 2013 By: jessicazafra Category: Movies 2 Comments →


in Guillermo Del Toro’s upcoming movie, Pacific Rim. (Did they even need CGI?)

Question to the candidates for Manila mayor: How would you deal with something like this?

Read our column at

The singing Starks and your dream wedding

March 28, 2013 By: jessicazafra Category: Books, Television No Comments →

Sansa, Arya and Bran Stark perform the theme from Game of Thrones. Bran is beatboxing. Hey where’s Rickon?

Meanwhile, a still from your fantasy life.

via Buzzfeed.

LitWit Challenge: Win a Summer Survival Kit

March 27, 2013 By: jessicazafra Category: Books, Contest 48 Comments →

This LitWit Challenge is closed. The winner will be announced tomorrow. Read the entries and our notes in Comments.

survival kit
The Devil in Silver by Victor LaValle, Php995. Limited edition Pilipinas Moleskine journal, Php1100. Pilot disposable fountain pen, Php105. Available at National Bookstores.

A good book, check. A great notebook, check. A very cool fountain pen, check. You’re all set for the summer—specifically our idea of summer, which does not include sunshine and sand.

If you want this Survival Kit, write us an essay or short story of at least 500 words on that classic topic: How I Spent My Summer Vacation. Could be any summer vacation. Could be a summer vacation that never happened, as long as it sounds convincing. Just make your essay/story as entertaining as hell. Deadline for submission of entries is Wednesday, 27 March 2013 at 12 noon.

To make things more interesting, entries will be judged INSTANTLY. Tip: Stay away from the “It was a dark and stormy night” opening.

This LitWit Challenge is brought to you by our friends at National Bookstore.

Reader review of The Virgin of Flames: Gallery of freaks, with lessons in tucking

March 27, 2013 By: jessicazafra Category: Books No Comments →

This reader review is by lestat.


You may not be familiar with the people in Chris Abani’s The Virgin of Flames, but they are the sort of personalities you would love to gossip about. Instead of figuring what this novel is all about, you may be better off marveling at the oddities of the characters.

The novel follows its protagonist, Black, around Los Angeles as he tries to come to terms with his hauntingly ugly childhood through his art. He is a 30-something muralist on a quest to find himself in the vibrant city. He is introduced to the reader while trying on face paint, doing things with his face and basically being odd because he is An Artiste and a true weirdo. And nothing validates a weirdo more than a set of equally strange friends. He is surrounded by so much weirdness, sometimes you wish this were about them instead.

Black, to some readers, may seem too weird and foreign. He is a multiracial artist who likes a transsexual stripper, likes his Johnny Walker, and in his spare time dresses like the Virgin Mary. Is he gay? Is he a conventional weirdo? Two-hundred odd pages on and you still may not have figured him out. He keeps building the mystery. Towards the end of the novel, he even tries to learn how to tuck his penis in his butt the way a transvestite does—a real treat for guy readers. But if this were about his quest to discover his true sexuality, it may have been over in the first hundred pages. Besides, those who are not in the habit of wearing tanga to make a living would attest that dick-tucking is something you do exclusively for fun. Clearly, Black should make for an interesting read. But maybe you’d rather hang out with his penis or the sidekicks.

Bomboy Dickens is the primary sidekick. He spouts the novel’s most interesting bits of dialogue, but he’s sadly relegated to the role of comic relief. If it crosses your mind that The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao is getting a worthy successor, it is due to the snappy retorts of Bomboy and his conversations with Black. Alas, Abani’s aim is not to appeal to your funny bones.

Also there is Iggy, Black’s landlady. She’s bald and she keeps a tattoo parlor and bar called The Ugly Store that has a mural filled with racist, politically-incorrect inscriptions. She keeps a midget servant who loves to quote Raymond Chandler. Iggy, she is also not like you and me.

Black’s penis, on the other hand, does not speak; nor does it have idiosyncrasies like Bomboy and Iggy. Its appearance is infrequent but its presence is major. It’s also sort of a plot-mover. Sometimes it alone drives him forward and mostly towards Sweet Girl, the immigrant Thai transsexual he’s inexplicably drawn to. Inexplicably because Black, who gives off a strong heterosexual vibe, is aware that the person he finds hopelessly alluring is also a man. Yet he persists. He is mightily attracted to Sweet Girl the lap-dancer, and that’s going to be the way it is. The intensity of Black junior’s erections dictates where this attraction is supposed to go. But this is not a love story, and Abani is resolute about not having any resolution.

Our hero obviously has Big Issues That Need Addressing rooted in his childhood traumas. If he hasn’t tired you out yet, maybe the flashbacks to his childhood will spring you back to life. His AIDS-afflicted mother is vicious—she makes the young Black perform self-flagellation in front of an altar, while his father is a confounding, ghostly presence—there, not quite there and finally, not there at all. Suddenly you think you know what this freak’s real issue is. You think you can finally feel satisfied with Black’s coming to terms with his misfortunes because he’s dealing with his feelings at last and working toward straightening out his life! But no.

If you’re exactly the kind of person who enjoys sneering at artist types, being unable to relate to them, this book may serve as an eye-opener or an entertainment featuring a gallery of freaks. You may not find anything to relate to, but its strangeness is a thing to behold. I don’t think I could trust anyone else to describe for me the rituals of strip-dancing and the art of tucking balls and shaft in one’s butt other than the seemingly demented Chris Abani.

The Virgin of Flames is a different kind of tale of self-discovery, one that doesn’t care much about reaching any discernible discovery. If you’re tired of tales of ditzy young girls and boys trying to find their luck in Hollywood, New York, or some other glamorous city, try this and have a balls-clutching experience. If you’re exasperated with small-town persons finding their way in the big, mean city, you may find a trip to Black’s lap-dance and alcohol-addled junction wildly entertaining. If anything, you’ll learn how to tuck your balls in your butt should the need for that ever arise in your boring life.

The Virgin of Flames by Chris Abani is available at National Bookstores.