If writing indeed requires time and isolation to be accomplished well, then this pandemic has given Charlson Ong just the thing he needed to burst forth with aplomb and grace. His latest novel, “White Lady, Black Christ,” is the first out of the newly revived Milflores Publishing house—and it is a book that will leave you breathless.
Ong’s writing is always impressive, and his trademark is that his work is never predictable—and, with this latest novel, he remains true to brand.
Where one would expect a crime-thriller to open with a bang, Ong begins contemplatively, with hooks geeks will not be able to escape once they read them, and he keeps you turning pages with science, philosophy and cogitative meditations, as well as with suspense, engaging characters and intricately woven subplots that, in the end, bring you to the most unexpected of endings.
But, really, the ingredients that make an Ong crime-thriller aren’t just what one requires of the genre as a matter of generic expectation. Rather, Ong delivers on the secret spice that has always been his forte across all the genres in which he has dipped his pen: the life of the Filipino Chinese in a country where they are both intrinsic and other.
The playful use of Western names that Tsinoy parents give their children, for instance, provides the needed levity for the heavy topics Ong is never afraid to confront in his work. In “White Lady,” that would be Dr. Chesterfield “Chester” Limhuatco, who is a cardiac specialist and surgeon.
That dry, wry humor of using a once-popular brand of cigarettes to name a heart surgeon is not lost on me—and that one bit of wit had me chuckling over the irony for hours. It comes as absolutely no surprise that Ong wields irony with the delicate power of a calligrapher’s pen, and he owns it well.
Above and beyond
The interactions between the characters were just as engaging as the plot and its twists.
Most novels can be classified as “plot-driven” or “character-driven”—or as being driven by any single element of the work. This writer multitasks so seamlessly in his novel that I had to pause everything else I had going on just to enjoy focusing on this book. Food could wait, and so could sleep. Ong’s writing is always worth the hunger and sleeplessness, and only his work could get me into that state.
The author, as always, goes above and beyond the bare minimum for pushing the reader to turn the pages without rest: This book is driven by every element Ong threw into his magic cauldron and stirred well, to blend them seamlessly into a story one cannot simply pick apart.
You can’t just dive into “White Lady” and set it aside, either. The work stays with you. It gave me the most vivid dreams, let me tell you—and that’s a sure sign that my mind was still on it after I’d turned the last page.
Ong warps time with this work. One will find that the story pace is quick, yet leisurely. Your heart will race as you read the book, yet relaxation sets in, and you can breathe. Don’t ask me how he pulls this off, because I have a mind to ask him myself, even as I put “White Lady” on what I’ve come to call my Charlson Ong shelf. Yes, his books have their own shelf in my library.
Kudos to Andrea Pasion-Flores of Milflores; she picked a winner for her opening salvo. May we read more Ong (and other authors selected with impeccable taste) fresh off their presses. You may visit the Milflores website (milflorespublishing.com) to order “White Lady, Black Christ” online. —CONTRIBUTED INQ