“A Book of Spells”
by Natalia F. Diaz
Philippine Daily Inquirer
Thursday, June 24, 1999

It is a rare and beautiful moment when a line from a book manages to grip your soul. This usually doesn’t happen while reading cheesy romance novels or sellout lawyer stories scheduled for the next Hollywood project. Soul-grabbing moments usually occur with books that speak to you. Words are then not simply black and white prints on a page, but rather spells that summon memories, conjure moments and rekindle emotions you thought were long dead.

On the Verge by Karen Kunawicz is indeed a book of spells. A “soul-grabber” so to speak. You read lines from her essays and often stop to wonder if you’ve known the author in a past life, because it is as if she had written for you and solely you.

The book is a compilation of Kunawicz’ selected essays throughout the years, divided into chapters of “Love,” “Twilight,” “Neverland,” “Interviewed People,” and “Writing.”

Unique memories

They are unique memories and anecdotes strung together to form the tapestry of Karen’s life, with superb illustrations capturing the gothic landscape from the Alamat artists. Her topics shift from the cataclysmic to the mundane—delving into various subjects such as the pain of heartbreak, the world of solitude, the realm of vampires, the philosophy of Rastafarianism. You’re taken back to Dredd nights, you’re infected with Johnny Depp and Eric Draven obsessions and you’re suddenly craving for chocolate milk. Yet even as they relate Karen’s own experiences, you cannot help but reread them for they bring about pangs of recognition.

In one essay, “The Sound of One’s Heart Breaking,” she explores the pain of lost live, describing it with powerful metaphors that so eloquently describe the intense emotion of heartbreak—“it’s the sound of a cherub’s dying breath, the sound of all those years disappearing in the vortex of Cupid’s kitchen sink.”

The ordinary likewise becomes extraordinary in the book, for some of the essays explore such facets of our world usually taken for granted.

In the essay “Here She Comes Again,” she writes about her fascination for the rain. (After reading this, you would never want to shoo the rain again!) “Fool Moon” is another unique and dreamy piece that takes you to European castles and mountaintops drenched with the light of a full moon.

Dark undertones

The book has dark undertones throughout, but it is not devoid of humor. It is actually quite endearing for it is stewed in the author’s eccentricities. Another favorite essay is “What I Would Do With a Steak Knife on a Date,” wherein Karen relates her blind date from hell experience. “V is for Vampire” is a humorous piece on the perks of being a preternatural creature of the night.

Another reason On the Verge is highly readable is the fact that it is written with such unpretentious language, and every essay is insightful.

It could be described as midnight rain—gloomy, yet comforting at the same time. It may have cynical tones, but it is definitely NOT angst-ridden. (And thank God for that, for angst is soooo two years ago!) Even as Kunawicz dwells on such esoterica as vampires and pixie dust, she manages to keep it light and down to earth, as if you were reading the journal of an older sister.

On the Verge is definitely a literary and visual spell. Anyone with a soul should read it, preferably on a rainy night with a cup of hot chocolate on the side.