Thirty Days of Stories: Day Ten

Title: Newlywed

Author: Banana Yoshimoto

Appears in: Lizard [1995]

Premise: A newlywed man who can’t bring himself to go home after a night of boozing encounters a strange being on the commuter train out of Tokyo.

Thoughts: And here we are, the story that threw the whole enterprise off the rails with a severity I never would have expected.  It didn’t occur to me when I started this that any of the stories I read might be…useless to the experiment.  This should not have been surprising to me, but it was. I read three stories in this collection, and while all of them were….fiiiine…..none of them inspired anything in me like the other nine stories I’d read so far.

And that, coupled with people’s unexpected re-discovery of something I wrote years ago that started getting unexpected praise, knocked me back down into the vortex of the “internal decathlon” pictured below.

(Artwork by Grant Snyder)

There is no reason for this.  I’m working on it, that’s all I can say right now. Serious this time. It’s a process.

So what was the problem with Lady Banana?  The first problem isn’t necessarily even her fault, and it’s a reality of reading Japanese authors in translation that I caution customers about all the time.  Japanese translations into English can read very plainspoken-bordering-on-boring; there’s a lot of telling, not showing [that cardinal sin of every creative writing class].  Newlywed definitely suffered from that problem. The narrator is always telling you how he’s feeling, it’s all blabby blab blab: for a story with a supernatural being in it, it felt really frigging plain. 

To be fair, the book takes care to note that Newlywed originally appeared as a series of serialized posters on Japanese commuter trains, like those ads you sometimes see on buses with poetry on them, something to bring some culture to the lowly public transit rider.  I’d like to think that fact contributed to the issues I had with the story, but I found Helix, another story from the collection, to have the same sort of dispassionate prose.  Maybe it’s just something in the Japanese character I’m unaccustomed to, and is actually something Yoshimoto captures brilliantly.  Still doesn’t make for a captivating read.

Lesson: Plain is boring, and deceptively hard to do.  Just because you write plain sentences doesn’t make you Hemingway.

Favourite line [or what passes for one]: “I’ve been watching this city long enough to know that it’s full of people like you, who left their hometowns and came here from other places. When I meet people who are transplants from other places, I know I have to use the language of people who never feel quite at home in this big city.”

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