The Funeral Of A Giraffe ($43.95; Aug.; 181 pp.; 0-7656-0441-8). A disappointing debut collection of seven relentlessly depressive tales, the first published (in 1975) by a veteran Japanese writer renowned as one of her country's most accomplished novelists, poets, and writers of popular songs. Tomioka's typical characters, as seen here, are middle-class householders stuck in unfulfilling jobs and in entry-level marriages or affairs, vulnerable to the pangs of unrequited love ("A Dog's Eye View"), the cruelty of the aging process ("Days of Dear Death") and the dissatisfactions of impersonal sex ("Yesterday's Girl," "Time Table"). Only in the bizarre title piece—in which a young man's early death brings out the worst in an increasingly estranged mother and daughter—does any whiff of individuality arise from Tomioka's melancholy premises. Unresonant, emotionally uninvolving stories, offering no evidence of why she's considered an important writer.
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