One man’s near-fatal shooting unlocks his family’s secrets about faith, finances and sexuality.
Alumit’s second novel (Letters to Montgomery Clift, not reviewed) is inspired by the 1999 shootings at a Los Angeles Jewish school, during which a Filipino-American postal worker was killed. In this story’s version of events, mailman Jory Lalaban survives, and while confined to his hospital bed, he contemplates the life that was nearly cut short—a childhood in an orphanage where he was raised by Jesuits; his shotgun marriage to a wealthy girl, Belen; his love of transcendentalism and conversion to a moon-worshipping faith; and the death of his son Jun. Meanwhile, his immediate family has its own concerns. Belen, who works as a nurse, grows panicky about the ever-escalating hospital bill, and fears that Jory’s shooting is proof of her mother’s curse on her for becoming pregnant. Emerson, their eldest son, is a shy and neurotic gay man, and he anxiously strives to work up the nerve to speak publicly about his father while reaching out for the comfort of his estranged boyfriend, Michael, a flight attendant from Taiwan. In general, the focus here alternates from Jory to Belen to Emerson, a structure that lets the reader engage with each character’s idiosyncrasies; Belen, for instance, believes she has a direct line to the Virgin Mary, while Emerson is comforted by cell-phone calls from his deceased brother. But though Alumit is skilled when it comes to characterization—the tension between Emerson and Michael is nicely rendered—the novel is so stuffed with good intentions that it becomes tedious. Alumit makes an honorable plea for the reader to understand Filipino culture, Jory’s faith, Emerson’s homosexuality and the way a child’s death rends a family, but by the closing chapters, the narrative is firmly locked into tearjerker mode—its spiritual elements, initially intriguing, ultimately feel like bits of greeting-card sentimentality.
A family-tragedy tale that makes some familiar pleas for understanding before wheezing to the finish line.