R. Zamora Linmark's lush, popular culture-drenched first novel, looks into the lives of some precocious Filipino fifth-graders in the Kalihi section of Honolulu. It's the '70s, and Katherine, Katrina-Trina Cruz, Edgar Ramirez, and Florante Sanchez form the triple FC's, the Farrah Fawcett Fan club. They role play Charlie's Angels, trade memorabilia, and write fan letters to ABC. They also write to Casey Kasem and Scott Baio and perform "Bee-Gees, Live in Kalihi." Edgar, who is vociferously out of the closet, and Florante, who is a poet, contend with the jocks, while Katrina battles a teacher whose husband is sleeping with her mother. Edgar has sex with the janitor. Just a bunch of regular kids.
Linmark is as disobedient as his characters. Rolling the R's doesn't have a conventional structure. Linmark won't cram experience into any familiar fictional box. The novel is made up of book reports, short first and third person narratives, teacher evaluations, letters, prayers, and poems. Some of the poems are written by Florante and some are unattributed. We aren't always sure who is speaking or whether it matters. The voice structure is fluid and continually surprising, making the novel that rare thing: an experimental page turner.
Language is more central to Rolling the R's than any narrative action. Or language is the action. The kids in Kalihi speak Pidgin-English. They aren't supposed to. Mrs. Takemoto, their teacher, is continually trying to make them speak conventional English. But in Rolling the R's, gender non-conformity and linguistic rebellion are inextricable. These kids use language in their own way, and their transformations or mistranslations are revealing and poetic. Edgar Ramirez, asked by Mrs. Takemoto to use the word "maudlin" in a sentence, replies, "My maudlin career is taking off so fast if I don't try and control it I'm going to have a nervous breakdown." For "testimony," he writes, "My testimony is to someday windowshop at Alo Moana Center with his hand in mine." Like Edgar's, Linmark's voice remains sharp, funny and sad throughout this daring, desire-filled book.
New York, New York