Saturday, March 09, 2013

That Kind of Guy (Mina V. Esguerra)

Author Mina V. Esguerra is on a roll these days. Her previous self-published books Fairy Tale Fail, Love Your Frenemies, and Interim Goddess of Love have been released under Summit Publishing. She's just finished the sequel to Interim called Queen of the Clueless, currently available on Amazon. She's also giving out talks and workshops for budding writers. With her familiar characters and engaging writing style, it's no wonder that her books are getting new fans every day.

While some of her books have reached near local cult-favorite status, not too far behind is her solid offering, That Kind of Guy. I think Ms Esguerra does best when she works with older characters. They seem to me a little more well-rounded, a little more flawed, a little more realistic. That Kind of Guy follows playboy Anton (best friend of the lead character in No Strings Attached) and Julie, a self-admitted manang (though it literally means 'older sister,' it is used to refer to very conservative women). Julie thinks that a so-so first date was the last she'd see of Anton. But to her surprise, the charming and outgoing guy pursues her, even attending Christmas dawn masses for her. Despite their differences and her preconceived notions of him, it is easy to see how they made a connection. Ultimately it is Julie's ideas of how her manang self stacks up against Anton's past hook-ups, how she feels that she's treated differently than those other girls, that puts their relationship in jeopardy. In an almost masochistic exercise, she keeps a journal of Anton's past hook-ups as a way to reassure herself of her decision.

In Julie, Ms Esguerra fleshes out a different kind of manang. The term usually conjures images of the spinster schoolteacher sans makeup or the pious churchgoer in long skirts. Julie is none of those. Perhaps she has a manang's candor, opinionated and unafraid to let people know. She has her own kind of confidence. But if it hadn't been mentioned many times over in the book, manang would be one of the last things I'd associate with her. For me, a manang's uncompromising old-fashioned values extend towards most every aspect of her life. Clearly based on her actions in this book, Julie was far removed from my definition. But what's important to note that despite this, she still regards herself as a conservative woman. She feels that she is less adventurous or less sexually aggressive than the norm. It's a surprising revelation and one that makes me rework my own definitions of the term.

But that's what the novella is getting at. We are so hung up on labels that we tend to box everything else that way. Anton was a playboy, therefore he was expected to act this way. Or Julie was a manang, therefore she was expected to act differently. In his Course in General Linguistics, linguist and literary theorist Ferdinand de Saussure rejects the idea that a word corresponds to one set object and acts as a symbol for that object. For him, language is a sign-system that connects the signifier to the signified, from one idea to another concept. But a reader's interpretation of the word 'playboy' varies. Jacques Derrida came up with term differance to convey that the way meaning shifts between signifier and signified. The word has a field of meanings: "The written sign can break its 'real context' and can be read in a different context regardless of what its writer intended. Any chain of signs can be 'grafted' into a discourse in another context." As Julie discovers, her expectations of Anton fail her because she expects him to act in one set way. Language, as with human nature, shifts.

If I have a minor complaint about the whole book, it's that in No Strings Attached, I had a different impression of Julie's social life. She hung out with Dante and an intellectual, academic crowd. In That Kind of Guy, she's almost like a social wallflower whose real friends pre-Anton were barely mentioned. Maybe their absence helped reinforce the manang stereotype. Or maybe their inclusion would have been confusing in a short novella that is already full of secondary characters. I'll never know, but I missed them. (Fine, I missed Dante.)

That Kind of Guy also contrasts two different dating styles. Again we go back to the idea of labels: the bad guy and the good guy. The book plays along with reader expectations and then twists them at the end so we see what can be emulated in the 'bad' guy and what is flawed in the 'good' one. On two separate occasions, I found myself defending why Henry was the poorer choice of the two.

I read this so many months ago but I can still remember how hooked I had been. I was in a car running errands and I could not put this down. (And from the looks of this ultra-long review, I'm still quite hooked!) As much as I love Ms Esguerra's other books, ones like No Strings Attached and That Kind of Guy are the ones that draw me the most.

4 comments:

The Reluctant Stylista said...

My favorite was No Strings Attached, too, as well as Love Your Frenemies. As much as I enjoyed My Imaginary Ex, I just felt like the writing of its sortof sequel went so much deeper than the usual feel-good stories (which I still love! My eternal guilty pleasure).

dementedchris said...

I'm rereading Frenemies, Leki! :D There's a lot of introspection going on so I like it more for that than for the romance. But yes to No Strings Attached hahaha! Love!

Celina said...

I love that we all have different favorite Mina Esguerra books. For me, it's this one.:)

dementedchris said...

@Celina

I can see why! This one is written excellently. Julie made me understand her reasons. Anton/Tonio was surprisingly nakakakilig, too!