Up, up, and away, and off to the land of opportunity, I think to myself. The land of happy endings.
from Happy Endings, L. J. Katigbak
The book Happy Endings written by Luis Joaquin M. Katigbak is a collection of short stories that revolves around different interpersonal relationships between people, where these people are impelled to believe the idea of ‘happy endings’. The book showcases the different stories of different people when dealing the nature of love and relationships, and exploring self-identity that may lead to self-realizations. The story reflects a lot of things: love, bewilderment, fear, and pain, represented in the various facets of character personas of high school teenagers, college students and young adults. Perhaps, one of the most distinct underlying theme that holds the collection comes from the reflection of the “I” narrator (named Emil) of the short story entitled Happy Endings:
[…] I think about all of us, speeding and lurching or trudging towards our individual endings, catching glimpses of them now and then, planning for the future, wishing, hoping, never really knowing for sure whether our endings will be happy or tragic […]
Indeed, most of us, inevitably, would dream about happy endings, only to find out that not all things end this way, and that our speculations and assumptions are far from what’s real. That is what makes the book really interesting, as the writer was able to extract specific details of experiences, wherein he coupled them with vivid characterizations and an effective prose style to present to us realistic situations of life.
The book has ten short stories. In Renegade Eyeballs, a college student faces the usual problems in a university, dealing with his friends and his girlfriend, and flunking exams and subjects. In between times, he finds leisure in daydreaming, which is a momentary suspension of reality due to his emotional insecurities with the people around him, and at the later part of the story, he ends up thinking of himself as a lunatic sharpshooter with his cheap toy gun, but only for a moment, for in the end he realizes that everything still remains the same. In Postcards, a girl mysteriously receives postcards from nowhere, and she ends up transporting herself into the other world. There, she meets the older and the other self of her who happens to be the one who sends her the postcards. In this story, the theme of self-identity echoes in the other girl’s statement, “To let you know that you have yourself to thank for your happiness.” In Happy Endings, a fresh college graduate named Emil works in an advertising company wherein he is able to distinguish the different desires and ambitions of the people around him, and reflect whether the things that they are doing would eventually lead into their desired happy endings.
In Birthday, a young man forgets his self-identity, and ends up wandering around the place hoping to find it. Along the way he speculates his own nature, and when he has the chance to know his true self (through his lost wallet), he detains the idea for a while, and told himself that today is his birthday. In What the World Was Waiting For, a group of high school student researchers are working for a thermoacoustic engine as a scientific project. A high school boy secretly develops feelings for his best friend who was going out for somebody. In the short story Away, the young woman daydreams of happy endings with a co-worker, and assumes that they both have the same feelings for each other, only to find out that the man is ‘too far away from her’. In Document, two special friends share a word processor, and the young man is confused whether there is something deeper between them.
In the story Kara’s Place, two long-termed college friends Eric and Kara meet one day in Kara’s place, and they talk about Kara’s problem about his professor who tried to harass her. To their surprise, they end up hugging and kissing each other in a moment, and they part from each other, leaving a sense of confusion to both of them. In Rain, Rachel, and a Wednesday Afternoon, a 28-year old man named Dodong looks back at the memories with a girl named Rachel fourteen years ago – memories in the rain and at that memorable Wednesday afternoon when they first met. Now, Dodong reflects on the present time: Rachel is already married and she has a beautiful daughter, and through this, it is questioned, whether he is trapped in the past. In the final short story, The End, the main character Anton becomes the herald-messenger of the end of the world which will happen in seven days. Here, we see, how Anton struggles with the pressure of the responsibility, but amidst this distress, he comes to appreciate the value of love in a life already marked with brevity.
In a closer reading of the short stories written by Luis Joaquin Katigbak, it is notable that the strength of the writer lies in his vivid descriptions of the mental and emotional states of his characters. By relaying to us the emotional and mental processes of his characters with utmost subtlety, we readers are able to see more of their human and sympathetic aspects. The writer was able to push the plot of the stories to subtle sentimentalities, mainly because his characters are ‘human’, believable and credible characters. In this way, we readers are able to participate in the story by relating ourselves to the feelings and mental states of the characters. Indeed, these characters have the quality of verisimilitude and universality.
The book Happy Endings is heavily laced with irony that life is not purely all about happy endings. The stories reflect unique interpretations of the inability of humans to decode what the future holds for each of us. The writer highlights the idea that humans are not perfect, and they have occasional shortcomings, and these mistakes are bound to stain the happily-ever-after thoughts. But eventually through these mistakes, humans can achieve clarity about their own selves, and to some extent, self-realizations. This theme is subtly exemplified in each stories of Katigbak – it resonates all through out the book with deeper significance. Luis Joaquin Katigbak has that creative finesse in using that artistic emotional restraint of which he used extensively and effectively in each stories, and that is why Happy Endings is one of my personal favorites.