I first encountered Eliza Victoria in her short story submission for the Filipino horror anthology Demons of the New Year entitled Salot and it was a piece that stayed with me because of its ambiguous ending and fascinating characters whom I wished she expounded on some more. Heck, I even personally tweeted her one time and asked if there is a sequel because I couldn't get enough of it and she responded that there was no more that she could offer me. I was heartbroken but it also ignited my interest further so I ventured on to discover more of her fiction.
She once again dazzled me for her submission in Alternative Alamat entitled Ana’s Little Pawnshop on Makiling St., and eluded me for her submission in the fantasy anthology The Farthest Shore entitled The Just World of Helena Jimenez which I had to read twice to fully understand.
So, as you can see, my first impressions of the work of this authoress have been quite intoxicating. Now you can just imagine my glee once I was able to purchase this novella of hers--and was absofuckinglutely blown away by the simplicity yet elegance of her plot and prose.
Surprisingly yet admirably enough, Dwellers only has less than two hundred pages and yet that very length is something Victoria made the most of. The story is about two cousins with the power to inhabit the bodies of other people of their choosing. That's how the story starts, with these two men right after they freshly occupied the brothers Louis and Jonah and began settling down in their new home. The novel is written in the first-person perspective of the new Jonah who is from here on serves as the eyes of the readers as the story unfolds.
Part of the ongoing mystery is that we never learned about the cousins' real names to the very end yet perhaps it's not what really matters at all.
In addition to this, Dwellers operated in a two-fold level of storytelling where we get the main plot which is about the mystery surrounding the lives of the brothers they have inhabited--especially once they found out one night during a blackout that the brothers have stored a dead body in the freezer down the basement. On the other hand, the secondary subplot starts in the middle of the novel where we get a flashback story concerning the cousins' tragic lives permeated by a complicated family history, and why they chose to run away from it all.
What I enjoyed most about Dwellers is the amazing pacing and direction of each chapter that both relish on keeping the readers on their toes as we ourselves slowly uncover the dark secrets of the brothers Louis and Jonah alongside the cousins. I also easily developed great sympathy for the cousins, particularly the one who is narrating everything as the new Jonah. Victoria has gracefully wove a psychological mystery novella with an unmistakable poignancy pouring out from the confines of its narrative which in turn speaks of the darkness and desolation of human struggles and conflicats that more often than not will always weigh down our lives.
One of the chief villains of the story even makes this big speech that truly drove the theme home: "We're doomed because we are all connected. But alone, we won't survive. Even if you all follow the rules, someone, somewhere, won't and it will be the end of you...We are infinitesimal. We are too small and our lives are too brief to make a difference."
I can't give away too much of the story anymore but I can guarantee that everything about the tone, atmosphere and theme in Dwellers will chill you to the bone. This is a marvelous novella that further seals the impact of Victoria's literary style. She certainly has a fondness for ambiguous endings where she never gives us a fixed resolution of her equally thought-provoking and surreal stories. In fact, once you turn the very last page, you are left with a feeling of emptiness and perplexion but, personally, it worked quite well.
It has certainly made the entire novella a painfully unforgettable one that is open to many interpretations.
*Darkly sublime and unforgivably enticing with its layers of mystery and drama