Photo by Ken Byrne
Gina Apostol’s fascinating novel Gun Dealer’s Daughter has just been published in an American edition. This incredible book traces the seduction of Sol, a young privileged girl, by a romantics in a revolutionary group during the heady Marcos era in The Philippines. The first-person narrative is colored with defective memories and unreliable (but sympathetic) narratives. The reader will fall apart with Sol when she realizes too late that she’s sealed the cruel fate of the one person who truly cared about her.
I recently had the pleasure to read Gun Dealer’s Daughter and Gina agreed to a few questions and answers for Giant Robot readers. For those in New York City, Gina will be reading with Sabina Murray at The Asian American Writers’ Workshop on Thursday Sept. 6.
Congratulations on writing such a stunner of a book. Has anything changed editorially from its original 2010 publication on Anvil in the Philippines and the American W.W. Norton edition earlier this year?
I cut some sections of the opening, mainly. I had always thought the beginning was too slow. But I was also attached and wanted to keep everything. I did keep most of it, like the carousel ride, etc., minutiae the reader would not remember but I thought were crucial to my design—the book was designed with a circle in mind. My editor helped me cut. It was great to work with an editor who was, to my mind, always on the same page with me, but had a sharp eye for killing, killing, killing all the lice—Flaubert’s term for the incidents and words you can get rid of, but don’t want to, because they have already sucked your blood.
I was once at this coffee shop in Baltimore listening to this incredibly stunning kid go on and on about Salinger and why she loved Catcher in the Rye. She turned out to be Winona Ryder talking to her boyfriend at the time, Johnny Depp
I couldn’t help but feel a certain vibe similar to the film Heathers. The feeling of play-revolutionaries mixed in with adolescent infatuation careening into something horribly real. How far would the teenage-girl narrator go in her zeal to impress Jed? On a different day would Sol (the girl) and Soli have changed places?
I just found the novel’s old Mac disks (those cute, colored squares that slide into the 1990s Macintoshes—I still keep that computer in my closet, like a sad robot of things past) and they were labeled Fil CITR —Filipino Catcher in the Rye. Oh, snap. It was only when I had finished the book that I thought—the bookend of carousels is a secret nod—of course!—to Catcher in the Rye. Heathers is a very good reference. All those films and books about adolescent stupor among the beautiful who become the damned. Now if Winona Ryder could also sing the Internationale as well as epater le bourgeois girls, she’d be Sol’s sister. I was once at this coffee shop in Baltimore listening to this incredibly stunning kid go on and on about Salinger and why she loved Catcher in the Rye. She turned out to be Winona Ryder talking to her boyfriend at the time, Johnny Depp. He was in town doing the movie Crybaby. He had a huge pimple on his face because John Waters kept making him eat Cheez Doodles or something during the shoot. What one learns from such models is that it is not good to take your teenage angst seriously. You might come to a bad end. In Winona’s case, she shoplifted; if only Sol had done the same. I always thought if Holden in Catcher had grown up in the Third World, he’d have turned into a good Maoist instead of just wandering drunk on Fifth Avenue and wiping off graffiti from the Egyptians at the Met. For me, of course, the difference between Heathers and Holden and Sol—and Winona—is that in Gun Dealer, adolescent angst is diagnosed as a political matter—even our malaise has consequences beyond the small pool of our local disenchantments. As for Sol’s thing with Jed—it is, I think, a cover for other lusts—above all the lust to be “real.” She has the Velveteen Bunny around her, after all, toys, the illusory world her parents bought, but like the bunny she wants to be real. Jed is a screen for that hunger, but I think even Sol knows she’s fooling herself. If you asked me, I’d have told her to get rid of Jed, from day one. Guy’s a dope. But I am not Sol. The thing about Sol and Soli is that they are meant to be somehow interchangeable, I think, but I am not sure. That Sol has, perhaps, a desire to be that other one, Soli, her ethical self, maybe, but she’s locked in her own merry-go-round of security, her carousel of comfort.
I fucking don’t care if Mitt Romney has ever felt alienated in his life