Spot Shelf: Israfel Fajela’s Brown Hole Gives a Lighthearted Take on Midlife Crisis

It's farcical with dark undertones.
by Rita T. Dela Cruz
June 05, 2023

Products recommended on our websites are independently selected by our editors. If you buy something through our links, Summit Media may earn an affiliate commission at no extra cost to you.

( Reaching midlife often pushes individuals to reflect on their existence. We often call it midlife crisis or midlife existentialism. Confronted with conflicts between past achievements and unrealized dreams, priorities are reevaluated, and if possible, lives are readjusted to pursue these unfulfilled aspirations.

Israfel Fajela's Brown Hole takes readers on a journey through midlife existentialism, when ordinary Filipino lives are infused with unusual and thought-provoking moments. The collection of 12 stories captures the essence of quotidian life while exploring deeper existential questions.

The stories are engaging and easy to read, written in accessible, contemporary, and conversational language. Despite having relatively few pages, the book covers a wide range of topics, including themes of disconnection, mental health, family dynamics, the unsettling nature of life, anxiety, illness, and mortality.


Disruptive Realities

Fajela's unique style shines through in his ability to blend the absurd with introspective reflections, creating a seamless narrative that challenges the boundaries of the ordinary. The stories transport readers into imaginative and surreal realms, where characters confront their own realities and embark on transformative journeys.

This writing style resembles Haruki Murakami's, who lets weird events unfold amidst the ordinary moments of life.

From the title story, where three friends reunite in a wine bar only to encounter a black hole, to tales like "The Utility Man," where a man with an avoidant personality disorder is offered a makeover of his yard at no cost, or "A Bedtime Story," which evokes powerful emotions in a father and son, the collection is filled with surprising twists and turns inviting readers to ponder and reimagine their own lives.

These disruptive realities, introduced in the stories create a sense of wonder and encourage readers to explore different dimensions of existence and perception. Like in "The Science Lesson," a man finds poignant moments of reflection after falling into a deep ditch, or how contrasting realities, grounded within the author's self-referential realm, are presented through a dreamlike sequence in "The Apartment." 

Recommended Videos

Farcical Twists and Dark Undertones

Fajela incorporates farcical twists into his stories. In "The Old Look," a man finds amusement in his wife's misfortune as she slips on a floor covered in spilled Coke. In "Unli," a married woman receives an evening call from a male friend who insists on availing unlimited calls to avoid excessive phone bills. In "Water Landing," a pregnant woman desperately tries to avoid giving birth in an airplane lavatory after her seatmate shares terrifying details about plane explosions during water landings. In "Deadlines," readers encounter a middle-aged man who, after juggling multiple jobs, faces reprimand for dozing off while on duty. These absurdist elements add a unique flavor to Fajela's storytelling.

In addition to the lighter moments, Fajela also explores darker themes. "The Creek," for example, delves into the depths of a woman on the edge of sociopathy due to a traumatic childhood encounter, while "Potpot" follows an overweight woman's decision to hasten her own death after a devastating cancer diagnosis.


Among the stories, "Ms. Philippines" stands out with its unconventional format—a story within a story presented as an interview. The interplay between the beauty queen's responses and the host's questions creates a layered narrative that intertwines the lives of the beauty queen and her intriguing father.

Throughout the collection, Fajela skillfully captures the essence of Filipino sentiments and explores the depths of the human psyche through the English language. His prose is both skillful and poignant, delivering a blend of wit and reflection that unravels the complexities of life.

The book embraces the idea that not every story requires a neat resolution, mirroring the reality of life itself, where loose ends often remain untied. This collection is a finalist in the Short Fiction (English) category at the 40th National Book Awards, a testament to its literary prowess and its ability to leave a lasting impact on readers.

Brown Hole (University of the Philippines Press, 2021) by Israfel Fagela is available on Lazada and Shopee for P320.


Links are updated regularly and as much as possible but note that products can run out of stock, discounts can expire and listed prices can change without prior notice.

Also read:
English Translation of It’s A Mens World Is Still Funny and Comforting
Discovering Sexuality in Blaise Campo Gacoscos' Kites in the Night
Post-War Manila Comes Alive in Mookie Katigbak Lacuesta's Assembling Alice