Skor by Earl Kristian Bayta Palma is a novel set in the slums of Manila, where poverty, sex and drugs rule everyone’s lives. Throughout the book, the term “skor” is used to depict drug use and crimes, themes that make the novel fairly different from most books you might see in a bookshop’s Filipiniana section.
The novel opens with an introduction of some of the critical characters in the story—like Tikyo, a jobless man who manages to meet street urchin Elmer. They form a tight, almost familial, friendship until necessary changes had to be done as demanded by Tikyo’s wife Belen.
After the tragic death of Elmer’s mother, he becomes a drug pusher and makes a living out of the goods rationed by a man called Rolex. He is joined by Roy, an uneducated man who got married to the baker’s aide named Beth, and James, the son of a prostitute named Nadia. With its non-linear Filipino storytelling tightly in place, the novel carefully paints a grotesque picture of what it’s like living in the dark streets of Daanghari, and ends in a very hazy confusion that will make you feel as if you’re the one who’s high on something.
WHAT I LIKED
What I enjoyed most about the book is the character development that’s been crafted to fulfill the novel’s mission: to push readers into a trippy journey through the poverty-stricken streets of Manila. The main characters Elmer, Roy and James have been given ample time to grow as individuals, and were given backstories that help readers understand the motivations behind their actions. The lives of these three people, as well as other critical characters, were also weaved perfectly, that I didn’t feel the need to go back and forth to see who was who and what was what. This strong link between each character made it easier for me to see the big picture—something that’s very important when discussing topics that require an open mind.
The stories inter-weaved in the novel also felt like it had legit street-cred. The realistic dialogues were written with such irreverence, it’s almost like Earl Kristian Bayta Palma and Ungaz Press recorded people talking in the streets so they could put them on paper for you to eavesdrop on. The novel was also gutsy enough to cover themes that might make some conservative readers cringe and point out societal imperfections through philosophical statements written with street flair.
While the phasing felt slow at first (probably because I’m a huge fan of fast-paced, action-packed murder mysteries and young adult series), the book provided a good rise of conflict halfway through that it became harder to put down as it progressed. If there’s one thing I learned from this book (as well as YA books such as Divergent and Game of Thrones), deaths definitely make stories much more interesting. (Spoiler alert! Highlight succeeding text to read.) Everyone dies.
I’m not really sure if we got an unedited version, or if it was intentionally done, but there were glaring grammatical and spelling mistakes peppered throughout the book that made me shake my head vigorously (but maybe that’s just because I’m an editor by profession).
I also had some difficulty getting past the first chapter because the foreword and the synopsis on the cover didn’t tell me what it was about nor make the book seem appealing or digestible to my often-too-tired-to-read mind. If you’re a bit of an OC like me, be prepared for plenty of street vernaculars and mentions of awkward bodily functions/byproducts that might make you squeamish.
There were also instances of inconsistent tones throughout the novel where the author goes from talking about poop to discussing our screwed up concept of morality and respect. It might distract you, or it might inspire you to look beneath the rubble and see the hidden gems of philosophy scattered throughout the novel.
By the end of the book, I was itching to write poetry that would relieve me of my stress. I guess the author was successful at something. He made me aware of a certain itch in my brain, a void that needs to be filled. Even the afterword of the novel, aptly titled “Halinghing sa Pagsulat,” bothered me big time—but in a good way. The novel made me realize that we all have these dark thoughts and even darker possibilities inside ourselves that we’ve all been keeping in locks and chains, not because we don’t know how to unleash them, but because we all have our own concepts of right and wrong that allow us to keep score of our morals—whether it be based on a bible or a bill. Overall, it’s a pretty good read that would make you appreciate Filipino literature in all its glory and grit. ☁