A whimsical story collection from a gifted writer with a keen eye and a playful sense of humor.

THE LONESOME BODYBUILDER

Eleven esoteric stories from prizewinning Japanese writer Motoya.

Playwright-turned-novelist Motoya has been steadily making her presence felt in the English-language market in literary magazines like Granta. Here she offers a deft combination of magic realism and contemporary irony, dosed with some surreal humor. The opener, “The Lonesome Bodybuilder,” is something of an outlier as a Carver-esque study on the inner life of a largely invisible wife who yearns to become the titular bodybuilder. “Fighters are so beautiful,” she writes. “Incredible bodies, both of them. Taut bone and flesh, nothing wasted.” But then things go slightly askew in “Why I Can No Longer Look at a Picnic Blanket Without Laughing,” about a boutique clerk and a customer who refuses to leave the changing room, and “Typhoon,” about a surreal encounter with an old man at a bus shelter who knows the secrets of flight. Imagination runs away with an advertising executive in the supershort and creepy “I Called You by Name.” The book is centered by a nearly novella-length story, “An Exotic Marriage,” a Kafkaesque depiction that shows how even those closest to us can wind up completely alien in the end, a disturbing sentiment that is also reflected in the final story, “The Straw Husband.” There is a bit of twisted, violent dystopia in “Paprika Jiro” and anime-flavored ultraviolence in “How to Burden the Girl,” while “The Women” takes on notes of Quentin Tarantino in showing how love is strange. Finally, Motoya offers an arch satire on “agony aunts” in “Q&A” and produces spare, dark prose in the collection’s finest story, “The Dogs,” a pitch-dark meditation on isolation and alienation set in a remote wilderness.

A whimsical story collection from a gifted writer with a keen eye and a playful sense of humor.

Pub Date: Nov. 6, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-59376-678-8

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Soft Skull Press

Review Posted Online: Aug. 21, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2018

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THE THINGS THEY CARRIED

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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HOW THE GARCIA GIRLS LOST THEIR ACCENTS

Told through the points of view of the four Garcia sisters- Carla, Sandi, Yolanda and Sofia-this perceptive first novel by poet Alvarez tells of a wealthy family exiled from the Dominican Republic after a failed coup, and how the daughters come of age, weathering the cultural and class transitions from privileged Dominicans to New York Hispanic immigrants. Brought up under strict social mores, the move to the States provides the girls a welcome escape from the pampered, overbearingly protective society in which they were raised, although subjecting them to other types of discrimination. Each rises to the challenge in her own way, as do their parents, Mami (Laura) and Papi (Carlos). The novel unfolds back through time, a complete picture accruing gradually as a series of stories recounts various incidents, beginning with ``Antojos'' (roughly translated ``cravings''), about Yolanda's return to the island after an absence of five years. Against the advice of her relatives, who fear for the safety of a young woman traveling the countryside alone, Yolanda heads out in a borrowed car in pursuit of some guavas and returns with a renewed understanding of stringent class differences. ``The Kiss,'' one of Sofia's stories, tells how she, married against her father's wishes, tries to keep family ties open by visiting yearly on her father's birthday with her young son. And in ``Trespass,'' Carla finds herself the victim of ignorance and prejudice a year after the Garcias have arrived in America, culminating with a pervert trying to lure her into his car. In perhaps one of the most deft and magical stories, ``Still Lives,'' young Sandi has an extraordinary first art lesson and becomes the inspiration for a statue of the Virgin: ``Dona Charito took the lot of us native children in hand Saturday mornings nine to twelve to put Art into us like Jesus into the heathen.'' The tradition and safety of the Old World are just part of the tradeoff that comes with the freedom and choice in the New. Alvarez manages to bring to attention many of the issues-serious and light-that immigrant families face, portraying them with sensitivity and, at times, an enjoyable, mischievous sense.

Pub Date: May 1, 1991

ISBN: 0-945575-57-2

Page Count: 308

Publisher: Algonquin

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 1991

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