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.