Smaller and Smaller Circles: A Book Review

Lately, I’ve decided to rekindle my inner bookworm by attempting to finish one book per month. I know that sounds like a sluggish pace for some but I just want to be realistic–after all, I am working full-time and I have other activities on the side (nothing interesting though, just paperworks for my pending immigration *insert eye roll*). Anyway, so I finished reading a classic– The Count of Monte Cristo– and started a new one, this time written by a Filipino author. This review is way overdue, but up to now, I still can help but gush at the superb writing skills of the writer.

Without further ado, I present to you: Smaller and Smaller Circles by F.H. Batacan

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Summary: “In northeast Manila’s Quezon City is a district called Payatas–a 50-acre dump that is home to thousands of people who live off of what they can scavenge there. It is one of the poorest neighborhoods in a city whose law enforcement is already stretched thin, devoid of forensic resources and rife with corruption. So when the eviscerated bodies of teenage boys begin to appear in the dump heaps, there is no one to seek justice on their behalf. In the rainy summer of 1997, two Jesuit priests take the matter of protecting their flock into their own hands. Father Gus Saenz has been a priest for three decades, but he is also a respected forensic anthropologist, one of the few in the Philippines, and has been tapped by the Director of the National Bureau of Investigations as a backup for police efforts. Together with his protege, Father Jerome Lucero, a psychologist, Saenz dedicates himself to tracking down the monster preying on these impoverished boys.” (Source: here)

What attracted me to the book was its cover. I know the cliche “Do not judge a book by its cover”, but honestly, the image of Sid Lucero and Nonie Buencamino on the front of the book piqued me, as these two actors are well-known for their outstanding performances regardless of their role. In addition, I wanted to read a book by a Filipino writer since the novel that I previously finished reading was by a French author. I wanted to try something new.

Just by browsing the summary, I already had an inkling that the story was going to be intriguing and fast-paced. Normally, I shy away from novels set in the present time, and this is because I feel like I know too much of the present and as such, I need no reminding of what goes on in my lifetime. However, when I finally read the story, I was immediately transported to a world that suddenly seemed alien to me, even though I grew up in Manila and is surrounded by concrete and grime for the most part.

The story is set in Quezon City, particularly in Payatas– a place where all of the Metro’s trash is dumped. I haven’t been there personally, but the way Ms. Batacan vividly describes the location made me feel as if I was walking the same muddy paths as the characters did, and breathed the same air that stank of human excrement and various filth.

If the description of the setting was engaging, it was so much more when it comes to the characters. What I liked about the protagonists is that even if they are the main characters of the story, it seemed like the spotlight isn’t trained on them but on the story itself. There wasn’t much info given about the priests’ backgrounds, other than those that are relevant to the plot. Instead, the characters moved with purpose and that is to unfold the story to the readers. The writer did not waste time on useless descriptions and musings by the characters. She dove straight on to the story and told each chapter without unnecessary flair or drama. That said, the pacing of the story is fast, with adequate ‘lulls’ in between. Overall, it was a wonderful joyride.

In spite of its religious themes, another thing that I love about this book is that it didn’t come off as ‘preach-y’. I guess, I can compare it to the good old San Miguel Pale Pilsen: unapologetically bitter and strong in the face of many ‘light’ and ‘healthy’ liquor. It’s as if the book is saying: “I will be brutal and I am not sorry for it. F*ck you.”. There were mentions of alleged pedophilia among parish priests, as well as pretentious followers of the Church–those batty old women pretending to be devout Christians but are in fact only after the “prestige” of being associated with the “holy”. Ms. Batacan presented such tropes and images very clearly that I found myself chuckling at the accuracy that she depicted those characters.

To sum up, Smaller and Smaller Circles is a very good novel and obviously worth reading. I enjoyed the story very much, such that I sacrificed sleep on several occassions beacause I could not put the book down. As a matter of fact, it has received a lot of positive feedback that there are news of it becoming a movie. Of course, Sid Lucero plays Father Lucero (I think the casting director had fun with that one lol), and Father Saenz is played by Nonie Buencamino. The movie is still in production, I believe, but it will be shown in theaters this 2017. I won’t miss it, for sure!





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