Mourning the recent loss of his mother, twentysomething Benicio—aka Benny—travels to Manila to reconnect with his estranged father, Howard. But when he arrives his father is nowhere to be found—leaving an irritated son to conclude that Howard has let him down for the umpteenth time. However, his father has actually been kidnapped by a meth-addled cabdriver, with grand plans to sell him to local terrorists as bait in the country’s never-ending power struggle between insurgents, separatists, and “democratic” muscle.
Benicio’s search for Howard reveals more about his father’s womanizing ways and suspicious business deals, reopening the old hurts that he’d hoped to mend. Interspersed with the son’s inquiry and the father’s calamitous life in captivity are the high-octane interconnecting narratives of Reynato Ocampo, the local celebrity-hero policeman charged with rescuing Howard; Ocampo’s ragtag team of wizardry-infused soldiers; and Monique, a novice officer at the American embassy whose family still feels feverishly unmoored in the Philippines.
With blistering forward momentum, crackling dialogue, wonderfully bizarre turns, and glimpses into both Filipino and expat culture, the novel marches toward a stunning climax, which ultimately challenges our conventional ideas of family and identity and introduces Yates as a powerful new voice in contemporary literature.
|Publisher:||Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group|
|Sold by:||Random House|
|File size:||3 MB|
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A man and a rooster exit a taxi idling on a crowded street. The man is short and thin, and the rooster is green, and the rooster belongs to him. The taxi belongs to him as well. He's wearing a fresh shirt, the blood all washed out, and his polyester slacks shine a little in the afternoon light. He's too young to be balding, but is. His mouth is a rotten mess, owing to bad hygiene and a shabu habit. His name is Ignacio. He and the rooster are villains.
Ignacio grips the open taxi door and stretches his legs. It feels good to be standing. The drive south from Manila should have taken only an hour, but he demanded that Littleboy--his idiot brother--make wrong turns so they'd be harder to follow. He'd barked instructions from the backseat, where he and Kelog pored over a soggy map and planned intricate double-backs. Kelog is the rooster. He's named Kelog because he's green, with red and orange in his tail, and a blood-red comb, like the rooster on the cereal. He used to be a fighting cock. He still would be, if not for the onset of blindness. He's retired now.
Littleboy stays in the family taxi, drumming his fingers on the wheel and singing along to the SexBomb Girls on the radio. Littleboy loves the family taxi. He never minds picking up Ignacio's shifts, and people tip him better, because he's a safer driver and doesn't look so scary. He looks big and soft. When the song ends he leans out the window and calls over to his brother.
"Is this it, Iggy? Are we there yet?"
"Not so loud, dummy!" Ignacio shouts. "What did I tell you?"
Littleboy looks embarrassed and squints. He hadn't been loud at all.
Ignacio holds Kelog tight and releases the open taxi door like a mother's hand. He steps into the after-lunch foot traffic, searches out a number above the shops and checks it with the address he'd written on his palm the night before. They're in the right spot--or close to it at least. They'll walk the final distance on side streets, just to be safe.
"Go park the car," Ignacio says. "I'll make sure we're alone."
"Be careful," Littleboy says, thumbing the scented Virgin Mother statuette on the dashboard. Ignacio watches him courteously reenter the slow moving traffic and then signal--who signals?--at the intersection ahead. He again thinks that maybe his brother isn't up to today's challenge. On a whole bunch of levels. Like maybe he's too softhearted. Or maybe he doesn't have sense enough to know he should be scared. Ignacio sure has sense enough. He's terrified. He appreciates the seriousness of the shit he's starting.
Ignacio shifts Kelog to his other arm, leans against the concrete wall of a store selling toilets and bathtubs and tries his utmost to look nonchalant. He scans the noisy street, all bathed in sweat from an unusually hot mid-May, even for the Philippines. Power lines sag dangerously low over speeding buses and jeepneys. Women hawk cool juice and duck eggs from tin kiosks, while men in a repair shop fold up their shirts to air out their guts. Two children chase a scalded cat down the sidewalk, but they get distracted by Kelog, and the cat escapes. "Is that a fighting cock, mister?" they ask. Kelog eyes the general area of the children with hungry disdain, and Ignacio tells them to beat it.
"Who are you talking to, pussy?" the smaller one says in a high, lovely voice. "This isn't your neighborhood, Manileño!"
The boys goose their crotches, spit near his shoes and run down the gravel sidewalk laughing. Ignacio presses himself into the shop wall and watches them go. He knows he looks out of place. But he's on the lookout for people even more out of place--scanning the street for the Americans that he's sure are following him. Men in suits ill-suited to the climate, peering out from behind menus in the karaoke bar and the buko pie shop. Pale men or maybe black men with sunglasses on their eyes and wireless earpiece-things in their ears. Blond freckled athlete virgins hiding in the lengthening shadows of stop signs; ready to pounce, ready to pull him into an SUV with diplomatic plates and tinted windows and take him somewhere dark and dress him in something bright and deprive him of sleep, ready to drag him screaming to ocean-distant rooms of electrified genitals and nudity-near-dogs, ready to lock him up with the real hardcore types at Guantanamo Bay, ready to laugh and eat pastries as they watch him get ass-raped through one-way glass. He's afraid of those Guantanamo types--his maybe future cellmates--the most. He isn't hardcore. And they'll know it in a second.
"How far is the mosque from here?" Littleboy's voice startles him so much that he drops Kelog, whose fighting spur--attached today for the first time in years--makes an ugly noise against the gravel.
"Idiot," Ignacio says as he reaches down to recover Kelog and coo to him. "Don't say that. Keep your mouth shut."
Littleboy shuts his mouth and breathes through his whistling nostrils. He takes obvious glances over each shoulder and then puts on what he must think is a nonconspiratorial expression. He looks like he's trying to pass something so big it hurts a little. He makes Ignacio sick.
"Come on," he says. "Walk behind me, and don't say anything to anybody."
Without another word, they make their way along the street. Ignacio slips down the first pedestrian alley they come to and walks the labyrinthine footpaths in the general direction of their destination: the Blue Mosque. He's not happy to be getting so many curious glances from passersby, and his hands shake, his long nails scraping audibly on his cheap slacks. The paranoia and the shabu have kept him awake for days now. The bags under his eyes are swollen so dark it looks like he's weeping tar. People avoid him in the narrow corridors between shanty walls; sometimes stepping in sewage to do so, as though they're afraid what he's got might be catching. When they pass Littleboy--dutifully a few steps behind--they've got no choice but to keep hugging the walls. He's almost as big across as Ignacio is tall, his head large as a breadfruit. He's got to duck every few steps to avoid do-it-yourself power lines, stolen cable and jagged aluminum siding.
But of the three of them, Kelog by far gets the most attention. Ignacio expected this--bringing him along is a calculated risk. He's conspicuous, but if shit goes down he'll be needed for protection. Even in retirement he's an impressive bird. His comb stands erect as a crown, the plume of his tail is thick and his talons are solid as a fat kid's fingers. Back in his heyday he put larger opponents away in the first round, leaving them open and disgorged like fancy unpacked handbags on the arena floor. He has thirty-three wins to his name, which may as well be thirty-three thousand considering the lifespan of your average working gamecock. If he hadn't started going blind he'd still be at it. And Ignacio would still be spending his earnings unwisely. And he wouldn't be doing something as dumb, and risky, as this.
The alleys widen as the villains get farther from the main road. Palms compete with makeshift antennas for canopy space, each a perch for sooty pigeons and wild sparrows still dyed red and green from the holidays. Shanty windows breathe talk radio in the heat, their corrugated roofs shimmering like skillets. The squat buildings seem more solid out here, built of concrete masonry blocks and insulated with mortar and foam. Some have fenced-in gardens; sunny resting places for chained dogs or old men chained by gravity to rattan lounge chairs. The old men heckle passersby as though it's charming.
"Hey!" one of them says, noticing the spur fastened to Kelog's foot. "You're going the wrong way, pal. The arena is that way." He points.
Ignacio quickens his pace. He can see a blue-capped minaret ahead and it's all he can do to keep from gawking. The alley opens further and they come abruptly to a white outer wall with a sprawling low dome beyond. The area around the mosque is quiet, save for a pair of shirtless teenagers in black-and-white crocheted caps playing basketball on the pounded dirt. The one with the ball freezes mid-pivot to look at the strangers and then, as though he's deemed them boring, shoots against the plywood backboard.
Ignacio and Littleboy walk along the wall to the arched entrance. It is trimmed with indigo and a vein of stone-inlaid Arabic script. "You'd better wait here," Ignacio says. "Don't come in unless you hear me yelling. Or, if I don't come out for a long time, then you can come in."
Littleboy bites his bottom lip and it quivers under his front teeth. His eyes glisten.
"Don't do that," Ignacio says as he hands Kelog over. "I'll be just fine. But if I'm not, then don't you dare run away. Come in and help me."
Littleboy gravely tries to shake Ignacio's hand, but Ignacio pulls away. He walks through the mosque entrance and finds himself in an empty courtyard surrounded on all sides by a white colonnade made featureless and bright in the midday sun. Dark arched doorways lie at irregular intervals beyond the columns, some of them open and others closed. Ignacio peeks inside one and sees a pair of concrete tubs filled to the brim with water, ringed by shallow troughs and drains. A young man in reading glasses sits on a stool beside one of the tubs, running water from a spigot over his bare feet. He looks up at Ignacio and smiles warmly. Hoping to look like he knows what he's doing, Ignacio stumbles into the room. He dips his hands into one of the tubs and washes them. He wets his forearms and his face and the back of his neck. He exits, dripping, and hears the young man behind him chuckle.
Ignacio peeks through arched doorways until he finds the large prayer room--confident that the Imam should be in there. He kicks off his shoes, grabs a knit cap from an empty desk by the doorway and walks inside. The carpet is the color of sand and feels good against his feet. It bunches up, here and there, around several white pillars garlanded with strands of beads. "Hello?" Ignacio calls. The prayer room replies with quiet. He looks about the walls and sees more beads, some prayer mats and unintelligible script running upward in a continuing frieze. It's nothing like the church in his old seminary, where the wooden eyes of the saints and Mary and baby Jesus and grownup Jesus were everywhere to stare you down. As frightening as he's always found them, the absence of faces here disturbs him even more.
"That was a quick ablution," someone says. "Are you in a rush?"
Ignacio spins to see a figure framed by sunlight in the doorway. It's the young man from the washroom--fully laced and dressed in a crisp white shirt. His slacks are ironed and wisps of a goatish beard cling to his chin.
"I'm sorry . . ." Ignacio looks down at his toes, and as he does a few greasy droplets of water drip from his head and spatter the carpet. "Am I doing something wrong?"
"It's all right. Come on out, why don't you?" The young man steps aside so Ignacio can exit the prayer room. He accepts the cap back from him and drops it on the desk, slightly apart from the other caps. Ignacio is jarred by the realization that this young man is the Imam he's come to meet, and he takes a moment to recover. He'd expected a transplant from the savage south; a bearded asskicker streaked with gray like molten stone. But this young man has a coffee-shop softness. He looks even more like a Manileño than Ignacio does.
"My name is Joey," the Imam says.
Joey? Ignacio thinks. Joey?
They shake hands and look at each other for many moments.
"You don't wish to tell me who you are?" the Imam asks.
"You can call me Mr. Orange."
The Imam smiles. "I love that movie, too," he says.
Ignacio sputters. "I telephoned you," he says. "I telephoned you. Yesterday. About that thing. The thing I'm selling?"
"Oh." The young Imam looks let down, disappointed in his new friend. "I said on the phone I wasn't interested."
"That's because you don't understand what it is."
"Even so. Even if I wanted it, this isn't a place to sell anything." The Imam begins walking through the bright courtyard, back to the washroom. "Please leave," he says without looking back.
Ignacio chases after him, the courtyard tile burning his bare soles. "Wait!" he calls. "Just take a look."
"No, thank you." The Imam makes to close the heavy washroom door but Ignacio jabs his naked foot through the frame. "Please go away," he says in an angry voice.
The door presses--not too hard--against Ignacio's foot, and he panics at the thought of having taken so many risks only to fuck this up now. He fumbles in his pockets, grabs a small rigid card and shoves it through the door so the Imam can see it. The pressure on his foot ebbs. The Imam is silent behind the door. When he finally speaks his voice echoes pleasingly against the tile walls and floor.
"What is this?"
Ignacio feels a brief flutter of confidence. He asks the Imam what it looks like.
The door opens slowly and the Imam plucks the card from Ignacio's fingers. It's an Illinois driver's license, three years past expiration, picturing an overweight white man with glasses and a full head of sandy hair. The Imam backs into the washroom and sits again on the wooden stool. He looks from the license back up to Ignacio.
"I told you that you'd be interested." Ignacio slips inside and sits on the wide rim of one of the concrete tubs--acting cool and awkward.
"I don't know what this is," the Imam says.
"Of course you don't." Ignacio winks. He taps the side of his nose twice, significantly. He kicks the washroom door closed and seals them both in hot half-darkness.
"No." The Imam drops the license on the tile between his feet. "I really don't know what this is."
Ignacio stares at him. He can hear Kelog crowing impatiently outside. The chain net jingles as the teenagers shoot hoops. Engines rumble distantly on the main road.
"I have that," Ignacio says, pointing down at the license.
"You have what?"
Ignacio puffs his cheeks in frustration. For all he knows, there is a team assembling on the corrugated rooftops outside. They'll be waiting by the exit with a bag for his head and shackles for his wrists and legs. He doesn't have time for these games. Ignacio scoops the license up and mashes his finger into the white man's face. "That!" he yells. "This! Him!"
"You have the person?"
"I understand," the Imam says, in a crackly voice. The crackly voice encourages Ignacio. He's caught him off guard, and that's always a good position to bargain from.
"So I was thinking, that, you know, you, being who you are . . . I watch the news. I have subscriptions. I follow what's going on. It wasn't a leap for me to imagine that someone like you would be interested," Ignacio says.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I do not, under any circumstances, continuing reading a book where one of the characters kills a dog for fun. Therefore, I stopped as soon as that happens. The author could have written a masterpiece after that and, honestly, I don't care. I'll never read the rest of it.
It's great when I really enjoy a book. Even better when the book was free, better when it's an early review book so you're the first on the cheerleading wagon and better still when it's the debut for a new author. Yes, Moondogs is all that.Moondogs has a handful of storylines weaving through it and all merge together very well by story's end. Yates is a talented writer and a sentence really jumped out more than once for me.My one complaint? I really enjoyed the characters and would have loved a sequel with everyone. I think there's a possiblity of continuing some of the stories, but without giving too much away, it's not going to have everyone.I did appreciate the "missing" statement about a character. Things didn't get tied up so neatly, the good guys weren't always so good and the bad guys...well, yeah, they probably were so bad.....I'll be keeping an eye out for any further offerings from Yates!
Moondogs is a well written action thriller wrapped in a veneer of brujo magic and surreal absurdism. The story revolves around the kidnapping in Manila of Howard Bridgewater, an American businessman, by a bumbling band of crack-addled desperados. They¿re up against Reynato Ocampo, a badass cop who¿s inspired a series of hit films, the leader of a posse of brujo-powered vigilantes. Howard¿s estranged son Benecio arrives for a pre-arranged visit to find the messy world his father has created turned upside down.Corruption, sex, culture clashes, and a touch of Three Stooges misadventure mixed with Tarantino-esque Pulp Fiction carry this confident debut novel. A great read!
Moondogs by Alexander Yates is a very well written novel. The action takes place in the Phillipines. It involves a successful American ex-pat businessman, his visiting adult son attempting to mend their strained relationship, an aspiring criminal, a commando leader, an American diplomat, and a soldier. Each of the first several chapters focuses on one character, which made it a bit difficult to follow since I read books over numerous sittings. But the plot progression and character development were entertaining. Yates includes mystical elements for the commandos and flashbacks particularly for the father-son relationship. The peripheral characters are interesting and believable. He deftly weaves the topics of terrorism, diplomacy, parenting, adultery, politics, scuba diving, and police/military operations. Enjoyable!
There is certainly something of magical realism here--albeit a pulpy reinterpretation--but there is also something more, something a bit more crude and raw. The story explodes with energy and intimacy, propelling the characters down a series of skewed plot lines and somehow managing to convince the reader, despite the fact that many of these characters never meet, that this is a crisp and coherent novel. This becomes most obvious in the final pages of the book, in which protagonist Benicio and his expatriate father Howard are finally reunited after a half decade of estrangement--only Howard dies before the two can speak, meaning that the reader can only infer the reconciliation based on the interior monologues of the characters separately. This is the kind of empathic chasm that defines the story, a certain gap between diegetic reality and reality-as-literature that ropes in reader and character alike with no small measure of violence. Language is tight and rather par for the course for young literature now, but cracks begin to show toward in the end when several instances of unbelievable dialogue and forced resolution break the general inertia of the piece.I suspect this will appeal to others with a possible shared background as an American expatriate in east Asia, as there are a few particularly telling moments that play with these dual layers of social function and lived cultural identity. Most interestingly, the suspension of disbelief required for the more magical or pulpy elements of the text fits this idea of voluntary linguistic and social displacement perfectly, inserting a layer of literary mediation between life and its interpretation.
This book is totally nuts. There is a lot of stuff going on and it is all really, profoundly weird, and it is all happening at once, in sometimes excruciating detail but the writing is pretty amazing and even though I didn't love the story I found it really hard to put down.Yates does a really good job of keeping the reader from getting lost in the multiple stories he's telling, which is not an easy task. I think this happens a little bit at the expense of the bigger picture, both in terms of the action of the novel itself and of what the novel is trying to do. It's a pretty amazing ride, but the reader is left with a kind of unsatisfying ending and the question, "What the hell just happened?" As a result, I'm not sure what to say about this book. I couldn't put it down, and I couldn't stop thinking about it, but I also kind of didn't enjoy it, except insofar as it was fun to watch Yates weave together all the parts of the story.
"A man and a rooster exit a taxi." This starts one of the best first paragraphs of any novel in memory. If every paragraph in Yates' book doesn't live up to this standard, it is still a good read. I had reservations about the amount of violence depicted, some of it gratuitous, but never considered dropping the book. The characters, and there are many of them, are drawn in detail. I cared about each of them and wanted to find out how they all end up. It is a book about the Philippines, about politics, about the powers of bruhos and bruhas, about crime, about human stupidity and its consequences.
This was the first Early Reviewer's book I've received in a long time that I thoroughly enjoyed. I found the characters engaging and the witchcraft premise interesting and unusual. The multiple narratives and perspectives were easy to follow and kept my interest. I often avoid fiction that takes place in a fantastical version of some far-flung country I know very little about, but I actually enjoyed this example, as I think it's pretty clear the author writes from firsthand knowledge of the area and not speculation. So, four stars!
Moondogs is an engaging book that moves at a rapid pace following a host of interesting characters, but it sometimes feels a bit rushed and out of control. It is wonderfully satirical, full of equal amounts of humor and heart and grit and disillusionment, but it failed to leave a permanent impression on me, as a reader. Yates¿s message seemed a bit diluted by the frenetic, zigzagging plot and although this book left me with a mild feeling of contentment upon its completion, I would not rush out to recommend it to my friends.
Satire, drama, comedy, fantasy, political commentary? I don't know! I just know I enjoyed spending this time in Manila with these people! I got to see a little of the life of an embassy worker, a soldier, a revolutionary, an action hero, an actor, and, of course, a witch or two. It's always nice to throw in a couple of bumbling criminals also. My children are all adults now, so I also especially enjoyed seeing a son come to terms with the reality of his father, rather than that fantasy we often grow up believing in. It's always fun to see adult children realize that both they and their parents are human! Additionally, I always enjoy a peek into an American expat community. I will definitely be watching for this new author's next book.
I was immediately drawn into the gritty sparkle of Mr. Yates' Philippines. Moondogs is permeated with shades of darkness, populated by damaged characters who operate in realms of moral ambiguity, inhabiting a slightly-magical reality. Yates maintains an interesting tension between reader and character by keeping the protagonists at arms length, making them fascinating, but difficult to like fully. The electric pace of this book made it a compelling read. The intertwining story-lines, drenched in a rain of politics, magic, redemption, and betrayal, wrap around the reader like vines in a Philippine jungle. I found this book fascinating, and as difficult to stop thinking about as it was to put down.
Moondogs was a fairly fun satirical novel, but I never found myself interested enough to want more. As I read, I would find certain parts funny or exciting, but in writing this review, I cannot recall them. The book did not stay with me, but that't not necessarily a bad thing. A fun book, but not for everyone.
I loved this book! There are many story lines that the author ties together neatly, unique characters that are well developed and introduced one by one in consecutive chapters, lots of local color, sense of humor-nicely done. An American IT man goes to the Phillipines after his mom dies to reconnect with his father. However, his father has been kidnapped by a meth addicted cab driver and his rooster. In the process of trying to find the father he is helped by a novice American Embassy staff, a celebrity cop and his crew of soldriers with magical powers, an actor turned senator...very entertaing.
I had a lot of hope for this book and the first few chapters were greatly engaging, but then I set it down...and I couldn't force myself to pick it back up. Despite the whimsical beginning and intriguing mysteries it just didn't haul me in. I pushed myself through it and I never really did warm to it again.
A very readable but starnge brew of magic realism, fatther-son character study and hard-boiled thriller. A very promising debut that just misses being great.
I usually stick to the epic fantasy genre but I am glad I stepped out of the box for this one. I was reading Chuck Sambuchino's Guide to Literary Agents blog and Yates wrote a guest post offering advice to writers. By leaving a comment, I entered a contest to win a signed copy of his book and it arrived in the mail a week later. It was a quick read, fast-paced, and interesting as well. Yates does an amazing job putting the reader in the Philippines. His knowledge of the culture and setting was obvious. The mixture of quirky humor with action, and the magical properties of the characters, came together well to tell an interesting story. While a great read, the only thing I wish he had changed was to draw out the climax a little. With the fast pace of the entire novel I can see how it would be hard to slow things down, but in my opinion it would have tipped the scale closer to five stars. Thanks for sharing your story with us Alexander Yates.
Moondogs by debut novelist Alexander Yates set in present day Philippines combines magic, action, and satire. Yates draws on his own knowledge of the Philippines where he graduated from high school and later returned to work for the political section of the US Embassy. His familiarity with and knowledge of the place and its people comes across. While the persons, places, and events are fictionalized, his Filipino and expat characters are familiar enough that Yates could have written about people we know. The lead character is Benicio Bridgewater, the son of a Columbian mother and American father. His parents had divorced years ago and Benicio has had a strained relationship with his father for years, but following Benicio's mother's funeral he's decided to visit his father in the Philippines to repair the relationship. When his father stands him up in the airport, Benicio is left angry and hurt. It turns out that his father Howard had been kidnapped by a meth-addled cabdriver and his strange companions. When the crime is discovered, local celebrity hero Reynato Ocampo and his special operations unit nicknamed Ka-Pow is called in to rescue Howard. Each member of the Ka-Pow team has a unique magical talent which Ocampo learns to harness. The characters in Moondogs run the gamut: yayas, drivers, and hotel staff, "political consultants" and actors turned politicians, pampered and privileged kids from the International School Manila, expat businessmen and "exotic dancers", desperate hustlers, kidnappers, military men, and terrorists from the South. Yates seems to have captured much of the Philippine experience and added his own special stamp creating an unusual, rollicking read. Review copy provided by the publisher.
I really enjoyed this book. The story revolves around American businessman and his son and takes place in the Philippines. There is really cool cast of charecters and they all are very interesting. The book was very discriptive and I felt like I had been to the Philippines after reading it.