Patron Saints Of Nothing throws curveball after curveball
It’s hard to start this without getting political. In fact, there’s no other way to go about it—I’ve tried. Randy Ribay’s Patron Saints Of Nothing tackles family, morals, ethics, friendship, crab mentality, guilt and Duterte’s war on drugs; so how can you discuss a book of these themes without touching on the sensitive topic that has our nation divided into three: the pros, the antis and the neutrals?
You can’t. But I’ll try not to be biased because that’s what Ribay drilled into me.
Patron Saints Of Nothing is narrated by Jay, an American-Filipino senior in high school who is on the cusp of entering university. His life is set, his path has been chosen. Is he satisfied? Maybe not, but he’s accepted things as they are.
It’s only when he learns of his childhood best friend and cousin, Jun’s, death that he starts to really question things. After some prodding, his Filipino father admits that the passing was caused by a shooting carried out on Duterte’s war on drugs. So Jay decides to go back to the Philippines—fueled by curiosity and infinite guilt—to find out what truly happened, unable to accept that Jun lived that kind of life.
What waits for him is a roller coaster of emotions, dictated by pieces of the mystery finally falling into place. Jun’s father is a top-gun police officer, a proud supporter for what the war on drugs fights against (and supposedly corrects). The rest of his family is silent and unquestioning.
What waits for the readers are eye-opening corners and unrelenting surprises. You might think you know what you’re getting with this novel, but you don’t. You can't—not even as I lay all this out.
In a technical sense, Patron Saints Of Nothing does little to go above and beyond your standard piece of fiction. The language used is simple and the pacing is so-so, but it does shine in character development, plot structure and—naturally—theme.
Ribay is courageous and it’s obvious that he put himself in the shoes of his characters. No one is one-sided and each one adds to the overarching story in obvious and unexpected ways. You'll attach yourself to Jun's sisters and the struggles they face, pushed by their father who wants nothing to do with him and yet pulled by their own memories of him. You'll empathize with Jay as he battles between holding Jun to the standard he remembers and the truth he learns (ie., that life gets to the best of everyone). After all, how do you know you truly know someone until they're dead?
The way he puts together the story is easy to follow—important for a novel of this caliber—and is chronologically laid out. There is a mystery to be solved and you eventually get all the answers, but it isn't a confusing read. Each doubt is silenced as the family is forced to admit the secrets they've been holding in, the feelings that they've been burying and the opinions that they've kept to themselves.
These things said, it’s only natural that the book’s theme and the debate that it takes part in are the true highlights.
Reading Patron Saints Of Nothing was not the journey I set out to take. I thought I had it figured out, blinded by my own biases on Duterte and the state our nation’s currently in. Seeing that book on my desk and opening to that first page was exciting because, as I preemptively decided, I was about to read thoughts of a friend on the same side. I had this idea that Ribay’s goal was to tell the world the horrors that news outlets have been so generous in telling, except in first person.
I was expecting to be reaffirmed, to be patted on the back and to be verified. Instead, I questioned what I thought I knew and what I thought I understood.
There is no right and wrong in this—really, any—war, an argument that is black and white is nothing more than a dream and there are no stones to be thrown. We do not know—we cannot know—a story from all angles. I’m not saying that Ribay changed my mind; I stand on the same ground I did before I was fully introduced to Jay and Jun.
But am I willing to listen a little more? Yes. Should I be more vigilant in my research and not let myself be spoon-fed details of another killing, another arrest, another set of tears? Yes.
Everyone that is interested should read Patron Saints Of Nothing. Anyone that has ever uttered an opinion on the issue should take their sweet time to understand its contents. And if any of my words have piqued your curiosity, I then suggest you listen to Ribay’s—trust me when I say they are infinitely more interesting (at least, in this discussion).
Art Alexandra Lara