Tanizaki combines understated realism with fabulism, sensuality, a fascination with the exotic (which, in a reversal of...


Four newly translated stories, written between 1917 and 1926, by one of the masters of 20th-century Japanese literature (The Makioka Sisters, 1957, etc.).

The first and longest of the stories, “The Strange Case of Tomoda and Matsunaga,” mirrors in many ways Stevenson’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. In 1920, the narrator, novelist F.K., receives a letter from a stranger who has found a letter from F.K. to his drinking buddy Tomoda in a satchel belonging to her husband, Gisuke. Since early in their marriage, Gisuke has divided his time in intervals: three years of quiet life at home, three years away and incommunicado. While Tomoda and Gisuke share no characteristics—Tomoda a portly sensualist of large and exotic appetites, Gisuke a thin, sickly traditionalist—the narrator is soon caught up in unraveling the question Gisuke’s wife raises: are Gisuke and Tomoda, who dominates the tale, the same man? After a dinner out while visiting China, the narrator of the brief, seemingly straightforward “A Night In Qinhuai” goes on a search of brothels, each more “gloomy” than the last. With the narrator torn between his distaste for the surroundings and his desire for the beautiful young prostitutes they house, Tanizaki creates an atmosphere both tawdry and ripe with desire. The narrator of “The Magician” finds the park he visits one summer evening “a bizarre blend of beauty and ugliness,” a description of the worlds Tanizaki creates as well. The narrator’s lover wants to test the power of their love against the power of the park magician who performs an act he calls The Art of Human Metamorphosis. Think Kafka despite the narrator’s references to Poe. The final story, “Red Roofs,” has a more contemporary feel, told from the perspective of a film actress juggling her multiple, sometimes perverse, sometimes oddly romantic relationships with men.

Tanizaki combines understated realism with fabulism, sensuality, a fascination with the exotic (which, in a reversal of American and European literary clichés, here means things Western), and ambivalence toward traditional Japan.

Pub Date: Sept. 28, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-472-07327-6

Page Count: 184

Publisher: Univ. of Michigan

Review Posted Online: July 4, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2016

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It's being called a novel, but it is more a hybrid: short-stories/essays/confessions about the Vietnam War—the subject that O'Brien reasonably comes back to with every book. Some of these stories/memoirs are very good in their starkness and factualness: the title piece, about what a foot soldier actually has on him (weights included) at any given time, lends a palpability that makes the emotional freight (fear, horror, guilt) correspond superbly. Maybe the most moving piece here is "On The Rainy River," about a draftee's ambivalence about going, and how he decided to go: "I would go to war—I would kill and maybe die—because I was embarrassed not to." But so much else is so structurally coy that real effects are muted and disadvantaged: O'Brien is writing a book more about earnestness than about war, and the peekaboos of this isn't really me but of course it truly is serve no true purpose. They make this an annoyingly arty book, hiding more than not behind Hemingwayesque time-signatures and puerile repetitions about war (and memory and everything else, for that matter) being hell and heaven both. A disappointment.

Pub Date: March 28, 1990

ISBN: 0618706410

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: Oct. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 1990

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Old-fashioned short fiction: honest, probing and moving.


One of America’s great novelists (Lost Memory of Skin, 2011, etc.) also writes excellent stories, as his sixth collection reminds readers.

Don’t expect atmospheric mood poems or avant-garde stylistic games in these dozen tales. Banks is a traditionalist, interested in narrative and character development; his simple, flexible prose doesn’t call attention to itself as it serves those aims. The intricate, not necessarily permanent bonds of family are a central concern. The bleak, stoic “Former Marine” depicts an aging father driven to extremes because he’s too proud to admit to his adult sons that he can no longer take care of himself. In the heartbreaking title story, the death of a beloved dog signals the final rupture in a family already rent by divorce. Fraught marriages in all their variety are unsparingly scrutinized in “Christmas Party,” Big Dog” and “The Outer Banks." But as the collection moves along, interactions with strangers begin to occupy center stage. The protagonist of “The Invisible Parrot” transcends the anxieties of his hard-pressed life through an impromptu act of generosity to a junkie. A man waiting in an airport bar is the uneasy recipient of confidences about “Searching for Veronica” from a woman whose truthfulness and motives he begins to suspect, until he flees since “the only safe response is to quarantine yourself.” Lurking menace that erupts into violence features in many Banks novels, and here, it provides jarring climaxes to two otherwise solid stories, “Blue” and “The Green Door.” Yet Banks quietly conveys compassion for even the darkest of his characters. Many of them (like their author) are older, at a point in life where options narrow and the future is uncomfortably close at hand—which is why widowed Isabel’s fearless shucking of her confining past is so exhilarating in “SnowBirds,” albeit counterbalanced by her friend Jane’s bleak acceptance of her own limited prospects.

Old-fashioned short fiction: honest, probing and moving.

Pub Date: Nov. 12, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-06-185765-2

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Ecco/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Sept. 1, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2013

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