(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

Each of Jessica Tarahata Hagedorn’s published books—including Dangerous Music (1975), Pet Food and Tropical Apparitions (1981), and Dogeaters—represents an advance in sophistication and complexity of construction, with Dogeaters the culmination of a stylistic evolution originating in the poetry Hagedorn wrote as early as 1965 (a selection of which may be found in 1973’s Four Young Women Poets, edited by Kenneth Rexroth) and traceable in her one published play, Chiquita Banana (in 1972’s Third World Women, edited by Janice Mirikitani). The versatility verified by Hagedorn’s achievement in three genres, by her career as a performance artist in the dual art form poets’ band West Coast Gangster Choir, and by her practice of publishing poems in variant versions evidences her commitment to being comprehensive and eclectic.

As a result of the sudden shifts in narrative focus and the equally sudden transitions from one prose style to another, along with the formidable roster of names of people, products, and places, Dogeaters reads very slowly, compelling the reader to experience the societal stagnation that the novel graphically depicts. As a work of social realism (it is too direct to qualify as satire in any clear sense), it examines squalid societal phenomena such as “shower soapers” (who stimulate themselves and one another for the delectation of a paying homosexual, largely foreign, audience) in a manner reminiscent of Giovanni Boccaccio’s Decameron (c. 1349-1351). The cause of this repellent situation is the regime of Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos, though the connection between political repression and societal squalor is never directly made. The Marcoses are not named, but the First Lady has an edifice complex, a lust for shoes, and an inclination for foreign film directors—traits sufficient by themselves to...

(The entire section is 785 words.)