A marvelous writer who deserves to be much better known in English.

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ONCE AND FOREVER

Best known as a poet, Japanese writer Miyazawa (1896-1933) turns to folklore and European modernism alike in this welcome collection of short fiction.

It’s a pleasing sign of cultural flexibility that Japanese pop culture, by way of anime, has found room for Miyazawa as inspiration and model; it’s hard to imagine an American superhero comic making similar room for, say, Sherwood Anderson. Yet Miyazawa is certainly playful enough to sustain a cartoon or comic, even when his purpose might be darker than it would seem at first glance. Consider his story “The Restaurant of Many Orders,” whose title does not refer to the rush of customers to keep the cooks busy but instead to a bossy establishment that instructs would-be patrons to go through a series of mandates, from combing their hair to spreading cream over their faces and ears, and lots of it, too. Finally, one of the well-groomed hunters who wanders into the place comes to a realization: “I’ve an idea that ‘restaurant’ doesn’t mean a place for serving food, but a place for cooking people and serving them.” Spot-on. Some of Miyazawa’s enigmatic stories seem to conceal hints of Kafka, as with “Gorsch the Cellist,” in which a not so very accomplished musician finds that his best audience is a studious cuckoo: “In fact, the more he played the more convinced he became that the cuckoo was better than he was.“ Badgers, cats, rabbits, and other critters figure in the story, as they do in many of Miyazawa’s pieces—and it’s a stroke of Kafkaesque brilliance that in one of them, a trap that catches a rat should have a speaking role. A hallmark is “The Fire Stone," a story in which a family of puzzled rabbits comes into possession of a dazzling jewel that burns “like the fires of a volcano…[and] shone like the sunset” and that touches off all kinds of discord before it takes flight like a bird and disappears.

A marvelous writer who deserves to be much better known in English.

Pub Date: Oct. 2, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-68137-260-0

Page Count: 288

Publisher: New York Review Books

Review Posted Online: July 17, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2018

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A kicky, kinky, wildly inventive 21st-century mashup with franker language and a higher body count than Hamlet.

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SHAKESPEARE FOR SQUIRRELS

Manic parodist Moore, fresh off a season in 1947 San Francisco (Noir, 2018), returns with a rare gift for Shakespeare fans who think A Midsummer Night’s Dream would be perfect if only it were a little more madcap.

Cast adrift by pirates together with his apprentice, halfwit giant Drool, and Jeff, his barely less intelligent monkey, Pocket of Dog Snogging upon Ouze, jester to the late King Lear, washes ashore in Shakespeare’s Athens, where Cobweb, a squirrel by day and fairy by night, takes him under her wing and other parts. Soon after he encounters Robin Goodfellow (the Puck), jester to shadow king Oberon, and Nick Bottom and the other clueless mechanicals rehearsing Pyramus and Thisby in a nearby forest before they present it in celebration of the wedding of Theseus, Duke of Athens, to Hippolyta, the captive Amazon queen who’s captured his heart, Pocket (The Serpent of Venice, 2014, etc.) finds Robin fatally shot by an arrow. Suspected briefly of the murder himself, he’s commissioned, first by Hippolyta, then by the unwitting Theseus, to identify the Puck’s killer. Oh, and Egeus, the Duke’s steward, wants him to find and execute Lysander, who’s run off with Egeus’ daughter, Hermia, instead of marrying Helena, who’s in love with Demetrius. As English majors can attest, a remarkable amount of this madness can already be found in Shakespeare’s play. Moore’s contribution is to amp up the couplings, bawdy language, violence, and metatextual analogies between the royals, the fairies, the mechanicals, his own interloping hero, and any number of other plays by the Bard.

A kicky, kinky, wildly inventive 21st-century mashup with franker language and a higher body count than Hamlet.

Pub Date: May 12, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-06-243402-9

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Feb. 9, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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THE NIGHT CIRCUS

Self-assured, entertaining debut novel that blends genres and crosses continents in quest of magic.

The world’s not big enough for two wizards, as Tolkien taught us—even if that world is the shiny, modern one of the late 19th century, with its streetcars and electric lights and newfangled horseless carriages. Yet, as first-time novelist Morgenstern imagines it, two wizards there are, if likely possessed of more legerdemain than true conjuring powers, and these two are jealous of their turf. It stands to reason, the laws of the universe working thus, that their children would meet and, rather than continue the feud into a new generation, would instead fall in love. Call it Romeo and Juliet for the Gilded Age, save that Morgenstern has her eye on a different Shakespearean text, The Tempest; says a fellow called Prospero to young magician Celia of the name her mother gave her, “She should have named you Miranda...I suppose she was not clever enough to think of it.” Celia is clever, however, a born magician, and eventually a big hit at the Circus of Dreams, which operates, naturally, only at night and has a slightly sinister air about it. But what would you expect of a yarn one of whose chief setting-things-into-action characters is known as “the man in the grey suit”? Morgenstern treads into Harry Potter territory, but though the chief audience for both Rowling and this tale will probably comprise of teenage girls, there are only superficial genre similarities. True, Celia’s magical powers grow, and the ordinary presto-change-o stuff gains potency—and, happily, surrealistic value. Finally, though, all the magic has deadly consequence, and it is then that the tale begins to take on the contours of a dark thriller, all told in a confident voice that is often quite poetic, as when the man in the grey suit tells us, “There’s magic in that. It’s in the listener, and for each and every ear it will be different, and it will affect them in ways they can never predict.” Generous in its vision and fun to read. Likely to be a big book—and, soon, a big movie, with all the franchise trimmings.

 

Pub Date: Sept. 13, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-385-53463-5

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: April 5, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2011

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