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



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



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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