BICYCLE DAYS by John Burnham Schwartz


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A slice-of-life first novel about a confused young American in Japan. Alec Stern, just graduated from Yale, has arrived in Tokyo to work for an American computer company and to live with a Japanese family. Scenes of life in Japan alternate with flashbacks to Alec's childhood. Alec has enough Japanese to communicate with the Hasegawas, his well-to-do "homestay" family, which means for the reader a series of stilted conversations. We also see Alec at the office, working long hours on a report for his American boss; Alec at the barbershop and the department store; Alec suffering through a live sex-show; Alec taking a break, staying with an elderly couple in a remote country village. He has two brief flings during his three months in Tokyo, the first with an upscale club hostess that he ends abruptly after a week, the second with Kiyoko, an attractive, intelligent co-worker who at 33 feels she is too old to find a husband, and soon realizes Alec is much too confused to be any kind of substitute. For Alec cannot decide whether he enjoys his new-found freedom; when his older brother Mark shows up and suggests they share an apartment, Alec brushes him off, yet once he has finished his report (which his boss calls "terrific"), he decides to quit, to return stateside "to be with my family." The root of the problem seems to be not so much his parents' messy divorce, eight years before, as Alec's Oedipal feeling for his mother, still the most important woman in his life (the title refers to her teaching him to ride in Central Park). The untransmuted material relating to Alec's family throws what might have been a coming-of-age novel out of kilter (for plainly Alec has not come of age): a disappointing jumble, then, though the author writes impressively of traditional Japanese life as lived in the country (he doesn't get a handle on Tokyo).

Pub Date: May 8th, 1989
ISBN: 671-66600-2
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
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