Books & Art

Everybody's Strange: Curious and Rousing Short Stories Written by a Filipino CEO

Nine short stories convey triumph and kindness, malice and deception.
IMAGE ARTHUR CANTOR
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Everybody’s Strange is a collection of nine short stories that shine a light on people grappling with inner struggles, triumphs, and defeat. Without being moralistic or righteous, it offers a sharp reflection of the human condition with its surreal and bizarre narratives.

The collection was written by first-time author Arthur Cantor during the lockdowns in 2020 and 2021. The author, who is the president and CEO of contractors Thaison Builder & Developer Inc., found himself writing short stories as a way to cope with the pandemic. Throughout Strange, he uses vivid metaphors to convey triumph, kindness, and human gratification, but there is also malice, cruelty, and deception. 

In “The Rise of the Cartoon King,” Cantor delivers a poignant message with a piece of cardboard. "Rise" is the story of Caloy, who grew up scavenging with his father for used boxes to be recycled and, in desperate times, eaten. Caloy eventually crawls out of poverty, but a piece of cardboard brings him back to the old days. 

In “Feeling Good,” we see the depths to which humans could sink to take advantage of others. It captures how the human need for validation gets twisted when a heist costs Felix, the protagonist, his job. Despite the story’s brevity, Cantor manages to build the main character’s personality to match the meaning of his name in Latin: happy. Ironically, his fate is the opposite of the second meaning of “felix” in Latin: fortunate. 

Cantor pulls a Chuck Palahniuk in “The Lab,” which deceivingly starts with a melodramatic opening, but gradually escalates into the surreal. And yet for all its outlandish plot, the story is kept firmly grounded with its matter-of-fact tone. In the story, Marcus, a worn-down bachelor, becomes the best man at his friend’s wedding, where his ex was also present. Seeing his pitiful state, a former classmate convinces him to travel to Thailand, where a genetic breakthrough keeps the world’s billionaires forever young. But there’s a catch that Marcus just finds hard to swallow. “The Lab” is a tragicomedy whose brilliance we haven’t seen since Palahniuk's “Obsolete.” 

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The Santos family seems like an ordinary family in “Eating Out.” In this short story, Cantor paints the family using the familiar imagery of conservative rules when eating together: no phones, no politics, and no arguments over dinner. They are far from perfect: The father is a womanizer, one of the brothers is a bully, and another is an estranged family disappointment. But the Santoses have an ungodly secret that keeps their bond firm, and it always happens during dinner. “Eating Out” is an unsettling piece that questions the unspeakable lengths people would go to in the name of family. 

In “Inside Man,” Olie is a grumpy old retiree who refuses to partake in modern technology. That’s until his son convinced him to buy a laptop so he could discover the benefits of the internet. Cantor playfully magnifies the consequences of people’s interactions on the internet or, in this case, when an unsuspecting Boomer gives ill advice to a stranger. 

The short stories are stirring and compelling. Cantor commands the narrative with depth and insight as he weaves an unpredictable plot whose every part is pregnant with meaning. Overall, Everybody’s Strange is a depiction of the human condition magnified through Cantor’s imaginative storytelling. Part of the charm of the stories is how the author uses ordinary, day-to-day scenarios and unabashedly plunges them into the uncomfortable and bizarre. It is a reading into the innermost struggles of individuals as they navigate shady moral territories, only to find strangeness peeking back through the peephole. 

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Mario Alvaro Limos
Features Editor, Esquire Philippines
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