When Jessica Zafra’s first novel came out last year, I had to google ‘umbrage.’ I seldom encounter this word and its closest association to me was the phony, mad in pink Hogwarts professor, Dolores Umbridge. Merriam-Webster defines umbrage as ‘a feeling of pique or resentment at some often fancied slight or insult.’ Typical Jessica.
I am not a fan of Jessica’s short fiction inasmuch as I have read, raved about, and still owned all Twisted books. To this day, her essays on covering books with plastic from Twisted 3 remain a masterclass on well, covering books with plastic. Her profile of Emily Abrera which appeared on Womenagerie drove me to enroll in Abrera’s one-day alpha master class on creativity back in 2019, an expensive course but worth every peso.
To us who wallowed in angst from the 90s to the 2000s, the Twisted essays were the voices of our rebellions and Jessica was our generation’s default spokesperson. But I find her stories less compelling being too familiar with Twisted. A couple of years ago, I re-read Twisted and it seemed that I already outgrew her writings. Which was good because perhaps I may have already acquired some semblance of emotional stability but sad because I don’t want to outgrow authors pivotal to my growth as a reader, moviegoer, music-lover, traveler, and Gen X-er.
But The Age of Umbrage is her first novel and I had to read it. Distance can make the heart grow fonder and the wide space of time between Umbrage and the last Jessiza Zafra piece that I have read enabled me to relish every page of this short coming of age novel. The minions of Twisted would right away know that Umbrage is autobiographical. References to Dune, The Once and Future King, and rock music et al were dead giveaways. The voice is sharp and the homage to the Marcos and Cory years should hopefully remind younger readers and the cynics that this country leaped democracy-wise. But lest we forget, corruption never ceased and the few rich continue to lord over their excesses. The Age of Umbrage is not only about the protagonist Guadalupe’s rage-worthy circumstances. Perhaps Jessica is urging us to still complain and rage at our stinking political and socio-economic conditions 35 years since Filipinos ousted a tyrant and restored the rule of law.
The Age of Umbrage has its faults though. It is pregnant with stereotypes that while true to their generation, should no longer be acceptable in an age where efforts toward of inclusion are strong and deliberate. I have started letting go of books that I’ve collected through the years by opening an online store called Sebastian Pitbull Community Bookshop. There should be between 1K-2K books in my collection and I strip myself of at least 25 titles weekly, a process which I thought would be an ordeal but turned out to be spiritual as I recognize the books that I would no longer read or re-read. It gave my mind and shelves spaces for books yet to be possessed and enjoyed. Jessica’s books would probably be among the last to go. Twisted are not just books; they were the voices of my youth. These are raw reflections of those bygone years that remain striking and familiar.