For the solo novel I read The Gangster of Love by Jessica Hagedorn. I chose the book because I read Dogeaters for the group novel and I really liked Hagedorn’s style of storytelling also, it sounded interesting from the group presentation. The Gangster of love is a coming of age story told in the perspective of Rocky Rivera (for the most part). Other parts of the story are told from an omniscient point of view so she can give the thoughts and feelings of other characters. I notice that Hagedorn likes to use different points of views within one novel.
She has an almost schizophrenic way of telling stories through including the thoughts of all her characters through a combination of omniscient and first person point of views. The main characters of the book are Rocky the youthful, innocent and hopeful narrator; Voltaire, Rocky’s hippie older brother who in my best words can be described as crazy or insane; Rocky’s mother Milagros who even in her poor status still believed she was upper class and behaved as such; and finally Rocky’s companions Elvis and Keiko.
The book takes place during the 1970’s and 1980’s in places such as Manila, San Francisco and New York. In the beginning of the book Rocky is this young and innocent character who is excited about life and everything it has to offer. She leaves part of her family behind in manila and arrives in San Francisco with her brother Voltaire and their mother Milagros. You can tell rocky is searching for something bigger, somewhere she can fit in. Barely just a teen upon her arrival Rocky grows into an adult with the succession of the novel and she begins to discover herself along with San Francisco of the 1970’s.
Rocky does not exactly come from a very homely life, with her mother bringing money in through a series of flirtations with different men. I feel like throughout the book it is almost assumed that she is the way she is because she never had a positive role model. Rocky grows to love and express herself through music and one day her brother brings home a guy named Elvis Chang who plays the guitar; Rocky falls in love with him almost immediately. While wondering the streets of San Francisco she meets up with this artist name Keiko Van Heller and they become best friends.
The three decide to move to New York where they begin to learn the true life of the music scene through fame, sex, and drugs. Towards the end half of the novel you begin to realize Rocky’s life has been as succession of failed relationships with her family, friends, and romantic interests. While in New York her relationship with Elvis fails after Keiko sleeps with him, also damaging Keiko and her relationship as well, but not as much as the two remain lifelong friends. She begins a relationship with a Cuban-American and they have a child together but their relationship does not last either other than through their daughter.
After her mother dies, Rocky decides to go back to the motherland where she is reunited with her father and family. The story was a full circle kind of story where she starts out and ends up in the Philippines. You can almost say she was looking for a home the whole time, then finally realized that her home was in the Philippines. Throughout the story she has this kind of longing to belong somewhere and even though she has seen a lot through her time she never really found it until she went back home.
As for the symbolism within the book, the yo-yo is a recurring symbol and it can best represent the entire coming full circle theme throughout the book. The yo-yo was invented in the Philippines and can be seen as symbolic, on one level or another, for all the characters, but especially for Rocky. She travels around searching for herself, searching for the American Dream, and the perfect gig but it is only when she returns to her beginning in Manila that she can stop her search.
Rocky is also the perfect yo-yo because she acts as the others want her to but she is always able to return to herself. One of the running themes throughout this book is the idea of the Philippines versus America. Milagros comes to America in search of the American dream and because she believes she is better than her life in the Philippines but, throughout her life in America she is shown struggling and having to work for a living to provide support for her family, in almost the same way she would have done in the Philippines.
Voltaire and Rocky are very similar to their mother, in that they want something beyond their life in the Philippines and they have this idea that life in America is completely better than a life in the Philippines. They search for somewhere to belong, for fame and fortune but in the end they return to where they started out. Rocky journeys through America but she ends up finding herself in the last place she thought to look- the Philippines. A lot of people have this idea of the American dream and how much better America is, but honestly there are struggles everywhere.
Music was also a very apparent theme throughout the story because it drove Rocky to discover her voice. Many artists are mentioned throughout the book with one in particular whose death set the tone of the book – Jimi Hendrix. I also think the music of the 1970’s and 1980’s described the decade very well which is probably why she chose to revolve the story around the popular music of the era, especially when it came to music and the influence of drugs within it. I thought this book started out really well with the main character was young and eager, but then it ended up in a jaded sort of perspective.
She wanted to live life and go out there and be adventurous but she ended up doing all sorts of crazy things some involving drugs, she ends up with a baby, and then she decides to go back to the Philippines. I felt like it was a very anti-climactic way to end the book, but it was probably the best way, not everything ends up happily ever after. Jessica Hagedorn’s point of view is this very realistic way of looking at things. She is one for making social commentary within her novels and All in all I would say I enjoyed reading her work.