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book review

Horse race track and other peculiar places in the ‘Fictionary’ of Jenny Ortuoste

/ 09:00 AM November 21, 2016

“Fictionary: New and Award-Winning Stories” (2016, University of Santo Tomas Publishing House; tel. 7313522) is Jenny Ortuoste’s first collection of short stories.

It is, quoting the writer in her introduction, a collection of “life guides.” They are guides because of the resolutions her stories end with—a variety of lessons from life’s ups and downs.


“Stories or kuwento help us make sense of life, society, and our place in things,” she writes. “They teach us how to cope with challenges and how to solve problems because somehow, somewhere, someone’s already dealt with that and any pointers on how to severaly improve our predicament… would be most welcome, thank you very much.”

But what stand out in these stories are the settings and the people these places transform. These are not really beautiful locations; the horse racetrack, the Filipino expat’s Los Angeles, and the country’s urban jungle.

Ortuoste’s fictions are arenas of relationships and conflicts; of passion and dispassion; of life’s painful twists and dramatic turns—a mother avenging her daughter’s attempted rape; an ex-lover’s passionate love for a man she would never have; a jockey’s choice over two loves; a female executive’s dealings with the dog-eat-dog world of the corporate office, and ghosts refusing to move on.

The author admits that her stories are “constructed on a framework of truth,” from actual episodes in her life but layered with fiction to become a shared experience with readers.

Her horse-track stories are obviously derived from her actual knowledge of horse races since she grew up near the Santa Ana hippodrome and she used to be a journalist covering the horse racing scene; she even used to write a racing column.


In her collection, she writes about a jockey’s despair and suicide (“Sire of Sires”), an obsessive-compulsive jockey (“Freak”) and even ghosts prowling the race track (“Last Race”).

Meanwhile Ortuoste’s “Los Angeles cycle of stories” consists of “Los Angeles” and “Marry Me,” which show how distance can make or unmake relationships; and “How I Spent My US Vacation” and “Barbie’s Basement,” morbid stories of latent violence.


The rest of the stories show the versatility of Ortuoste. She explores words, metaphors and situations that rivet readers. The voice in her tales range from the bare but tenacious to the passionate and obsessive. “Wolves I Have Known” stands out for its portrayal of near-predatory relationships.

The collection has its flaws, of course. But these are already pointed out by Cristina Pantoja Hidalgo in her foreword: “There is an unevenness in some of the stories, but this is not unexpected in first collections.”

Ortuoste is a new voice in Philippine fiction in English. She provides a fictive world where a reader will surely find it worth spending his time in. —CONTRIBUTED

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TAGS: fictionary, jenny ortuoste, Short Stories, UST Publishing House
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