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THE LONESOME BODYBUILDER

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

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. 20, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2018

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SIGHTSEEING

STORIES

A newcomer to watch: fresh, funny, and tough.

Seven stories, including a couple of prizewinners, from an exuberantly talented young Thai-American writer.

In the poignant title story, a young man accompanies his mother to Kok Lukmak, the last in the chain of Andaman Islands—where the two can behave like “farangs,” or foreigners, for once. It’s his last summer before college, her last before losing her eyesight. As he adjusts to his unsentimental mother’s acceptance of her fate, they make tentative steps toward the future. “Farangs,” included in Best New American Voices 2005 (p. 711), is about a flirtation between a Thai teenager who keeps a pet pig named Clint Eastwood and an American girl who wanders around in a bikini. His mother, who runs a motel after having been deserted by the boy’s American father, warns him about “bonking” one of the guests. “Draft Day” concerns a relieved but guilty young man whose father has bribed him out of the draft, and in “Don’t Let Me Die in This Place,” a bitter grandfather has moved from the States to Bangkok to live with his son, his Thai daughter-in-law, and two grandchildren. The grandfather’s grudging adjustment to the move and to his loss of autonomy (from a stroke) is accelerated by a visit to a carnival, where he urges the whole family into a game of bumper cars. The longest story, “Cockfighter,” is an astonishing coming-of-ager about feisty Ladda, 15, who watches as her father, once the best cockfighter in town, loses his status, money, and dignity to Little Jui, 16, a meth addict whose father is the local crime boss. Even Ladda is in danger, as Little Jui’s bodyguards try to abduct her. Her mother tells Ladda a family secret about her father’s failure of courage in fighting Big Jui to save his own sister’s honor. By the time Little Jui has had her father beaten and his ear cut off, Ladda has begun to realize how she must fend for herself.

A newcomer to watch: fresh, funny, and tough.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 2005

ISBN: 0-8021-1788-0

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Grove

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2004

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A PERMANENT MEMBER OF THE FAMILY

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: Aug. 31, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2013

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