Updated: September 18, 2018, 6:00 PM
The book is an honest and endearing tale…
The Seven Muses of Harry Salcedo
By Vincent Ternida
Published by Ricepaper Magazine
Review By Carlo Javier
‘An honest and endearing tale of a third culture Filipino-Canadian’s (mis)adventures in family, religion, relationships, and self-actualization. It is unapologetic in its tendencies for dark humour and raunchy excerpts, yet it assuredly will tug at your heartstrings – and at times, it just won’t let you go.’
It is no hyperbolic claim to say that Vincent Ternida’s The Seven Muses of Harry Salcedo is a trailblazer. The novel is a first for Ternida and a first for Ricepaper Magazine. For many readers such as myself, it also marks the first time seeing a Filipino-Canadian lead in a story set in the diverse and urban sphere of the Lower Mainland. Hell, this is the first I have seen a Filipino lead character in any form of media outside of the Philippines.
The Seven Muses is as poignant as it is funny. It is an honest and endearing tale of a third culture Filipino-Canadian’s (mis)adventures in family, religion, relationships, and self-actualization. It is unapologetic in its tendencies for dark humour and raunchy excerpts, yet it assuredly will tug at your heartstrings – and at times, it just won’t let you go.
The story finds the titular character Harry Salcedo in a mad rush to finish the novel of his dreams. He justifies its completion and potential publication as impetus and means to escape the trappings of the pacific northwest and transplant his life to the bustling sprawl and enormity of Toronto. Along the way, Harry recounts the relationships that helped shape his life – some in ways that he did not initially acknowledge. It is worth nothing that the Harry’s series of girlfriends come from a wide spectrum of ethnic backgrounds – and that Harry, who describes himself as being short and pudgy, is not exactly your cookie cutter look for a lecherous playboy type of character.
While the title explicitly spotlights the seven partners, Ternida’s debut novel shines in its exploration of infinitely deeper and personal relationships: his bond with his parents (especially with his father), his friendship with Frank – his once “fuckboy” partner-in-crime turned priest – and his undoubtedly unhealthy addiction to coffee. Its through these relationships that the we see Harry venture inwards, reflecting on the steps and anecdotes of the past that led to the present.
Though Harry may often seem like the archetypical sad, mid-thirties, Vancouver hipster, Ternida’s prose is very much the opposite. He is jovial and colourful, exuding exuberance with every memory. He is also masterful in the use and maximization of details. From the sudden quips that might only register with a Filipino reader, to the vivid painting of the Lower Mainland setting – any transit-familiar readers will resonate with Ternida’s use of the bus routes and stations that are consistently present in the novel.
As Asian-American stories continue to get its much-deserved recognition (see: Crazy Rich Asians, To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before), Ternida’s The Seven Muses of Harry Salcedo succeeds in casting a light in the forgotten, and sometimes ill-represented contingency of Southeast Asians. The stories of Filipinos in Canada may be rooted in the exodus of Overseas Filipino Workers and Lived-In Caregivers, but as Ternida demonstrates by way of Harry Salcedo, the portrayal of Filipinos in popular media doesn’t always have to be like that. Simply because in reality, the stereotypes don’t always ring true.
Saturday Sept 22
12.00-1.30 PM: Writing Across the Asian Canadian Diaspora – Panel with Madeleine Thien, Jovanni Sy, Michael Kaan, Vincent Ternida, and Kevin Chong [Free]
2.00-3.00 PM: The Tale of the Re-Write: The Craft of Words and Memory – Workshop with Michael Kaan
4.00-5.00 PM: Writing About Dystopia – Workshop with Kevin Chong
5.30-6.30 PM: A Conversation on Writing, Memory, and Family with Katherine Luo and Madeleine Thien
7.00-8.00 PM: Translating Life to Fiction: Learning to See the World as Your Novel – Workshop with Vincent Ternida
Sunday Sept 23
12.00-1.30 PM: Is There Such Thing as a Canon? The Evolution of Asian Canadian Writing – Panel with Carrianne Leung, Evelyn Lau, Alice Poon, Michelle Kim, Cheuk Kwan, and Vincent Ternida [Free]
2.30-3.30 PM: What Next? Life After Writing the Inaugural Novel – Workshop with Carrianne Leung
4.00-5.00 PM: Turning to History for Inspiration: Writing the Historical Novel – Workshop with Alice Poon
6.00-7.00 PM: Closing Performance with playwright Jovanni Sy