Ladies is pimps too

All In

Back when I was playing in the band, occasionally friends who knew me outside of the group would ask what I got out of the experience. I was never shy to point out that I rarely listened to the sort of proggish-metal we composed and performed in my personal life, Tool/A Perfect Circle and the odd System of a Down track being the occasional outliers. The response I would always give is that the simple explanation behind my musical preferences is likely no different than anyone else’s, I just require music to make me feel something. When I was striving to be the loudest thing onstage with three of my closest friends, that made me feel transcendent; when I listened to 90’s-era Manic Street Preachers I felt invincible; when I heard Sam Cooke I felt longing but never lonely.

You could argue I experience emotion a little more acutely than others (while being simultaneously oblivious to the feelings of those around me. It’s a process), I don’t think I’m unique in what I want out of music. We all have our artists that we cherish more than others because they strum that string in our souls that can be guaranteed to instantly summon a certain feeling. But it’s important to reiterate as I investigate how I became the guy who wrote a book on J Dilla and became totally enthralled with a Japanese girl group in the same year.

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On Puella Magi Madoka Magica

Last weekend, the nerdmageddon known as FanExpo Canada hit Toronto’s Metro Convention Centre, and despite my well-documented thoughts on convention season, I was seriously considering going, but ultimately tapped out due to the financial commitment required and my unwillingness to spend my rent money getting photos with Nathan Fillion and The Walking Dead’Dixon Brothers.  But it was dicey there for a minute.

I’d forgive you if you’d forgotten or were unaware of how deep my geekery runs. Most of the topics around here lately seem to centre around hip-hop or weak-kneed attempts at personal insight. But it’s always gurgling inside me, ready to spurt out at any moment, from my continued love of professional wrestling, my slavish dedication to the comic series Saga, or the fact that after September 17, I will be on permanent vacation causing mayhem throughout Los Santos.

I did not expect it to be triggered by a Japanese anime about magical girls.

On the off chance you are ever planning on watching Puella Magi Madoka Magica, there will be mad spoilers coming.

GO NOW.

Okay then.

I’d heard of Madoka Magica long before I thought to watch it: one night I stumbled across the ‘Headless Mami‘ meme and found it odd that a character in a cutesy-wutesy magical girl show would get decapitated, but stranger things have happened.  But the image stuck with me, solely because it wasn’t something I’d seen before.  I’ve been long burned out on anime, the tropes of the medium had become too trite and predictable to me [I solely blame Love Hina for this]. But something about Mami’s demise stuck with me, so when I saw that Crackle [the dollar bin of online video] had the whole series available, I gave it a shot. And was pretty much stunned into submission. Because it’s Sailor Moon-meets-Evangelion.

In the late 90’s, the North American broadcasts of Sailor Moon and Dragon Ball Z combined with a fluke viewing of the cult classic Akira to transform me into the most rabid of anime fans.  The crap we would have to go through back then to see anything that wasn’t already bought for syndication on children’s television would floor the fans of today. There was one store [ONE] that had a small selection of VHS tapes from the now-defunct Streamline Pictures and early releases from Manga Entertainment. If you’re of my generation of fandom, you remember these shows: Wicked CityGhost in the ShellMacross PlusThe Wings of Honneamise, Dirty Pair. Smaller distributors like ADVision or Central Park Media had started releasing shows by the mid-90’s, but digging them up in Windsor, Ontario was next to impossible, and when you did they were usually horrific English dubs by barely conscious voice actors [the ‘sub v. dub wars’ were real, friends; even worse, dubbed anime retailed for less than its subtitled counterparts, since manufacturers considered anime in its original Japanese a more ‘niche product’ and because, as rumour had it one executive explained, ‘fans will pay it.’ DVDs, with their multiple audio options, changed the game]. One afternoon in my university computer lab I did a Lycos search [really] of ‘anime’ and discovered something called The Right Stuf International. Today, TRSI is an online behemoth, the oldest North American anime retailer in the business. Back in the day, its sales were done via mail order, and all we had to go on were recommendations and descriptions from the catalogue. There were no trailers to watch, you could maybe glean some info from the fledgling message boards that started cropping up, but a lot of times you went on instinct, what you though sounded good. Then you sent them an order form and a cheque, and six weeks later you got some tapes.

We will not talk about how much of my money this company received from 1996-1998.

Many of the shows I love to this day I learned about from the TRSI catalogue, or from people I met on their message boards and would send/trade tapes with.  One of those shows was Neon Genesis Evangelion. I would never call it my ‘favourite’ anime in the same way I wouldn’t call The Sandman my ‘favourite’ comic, but images and story points of Eva have stayed with me for almost 15 years. We don’t need to get into a major plot synopsis of the show, all we need to say is that Eva took the genre of giant robots, which had been around in Japanese SF for decades and added an element of psychology and deconstruction that no one had ever tried before. When fans didn’t approve of the show’s conclusion, director Hideaki Anno rereleased the ending in the theatrical release End of Evangelion which has to be the most flagrant pair of middle fingers to a property’s fanbase in the history of filmmaking. It was glorious to witness. As the series gets tweaked and retold in a new theatrical tetralogy, its impact is still being felt [the tandem piloting of the Jaegers in Pacific Rim is one of a few ideas in that movie that seems to be inspired by Eva]. What makes that show so fascinating is that ultimately, it was never about smashy-smashy robotic fisticuffs, it was about the trauma inflicted on the 14-year-olds forced to pilot the things, all of them dealing with abandonment issues, all of them searching for a meaning in a meaningless world. Existentialism at its finest [or worst, depending].

PMMM looks to do the same thing with the magical girl genre. In shows of that type, typically some unremarkable girl has a trinket of some sort bestowed on her by a sparkly cat/puppy/squirrel/wolverine which then allows her to transform into a powerful crusader of justice who battles the monster of the week before squaring off the overarching menace.

PMMM takes the formula but turns the magical girl proposal into an overtly Faustian bargain: Kyubey, the show’s wonder-rodent of choice and indeterminate origin grants wishes, anything a young lady may desire, and in return, said lady must work as a magical girl fighting ‘witches’, physical manifestations of hopelessness and despair. For most of the show’s 12 episodes, Madoka, the titular character and protagonist, wrestles with the decision whether or not to take Kyubey up on his offer, despite his forceful encouragement and claims that she would be the most powerful magical girl ever.  For those characters that do decide to accept Kyubey’s offer, the gift turns to a monkey’s paw: Mami’s elation at the possibility of no longer being the lone  magical girl leads to overconfidence and death; Madoka’s friend Sayaka makes a wish to help the boy she loves, which brings her nothing but pain and hurt, and also death, turning her into a witch [the ultimate fate of all magical girls]; the antagonistic Homura reveals herself to be a time traveler who had her life saved when Madoka sacrificed her own, and has gone through hundreds of timelines to try and prevent the same outcome. And when Madoka finally makes her choice… well, I suppose I should leave you some mysteries.

The characters in the show are all wrestling with powerlessness and failure, despite the mighty abilities at their command. When Kyubey’s intentions are finally revealed, he turns out to be a member of an alien race looking to harvest emotional energy to restore balance to the universe and prevent entropy [shaky science here, but it’s still a rare hard-SF angle to the typically new agey approach these shows usually take] and what conduit can provide more emotional energy than adolescent girls?  They’re nothing but unchecked emotional energy. While not nearly as nihilistic in its storytelling as Eva gets, I was taken completely off guard by the weight of the story, by the loss the characters feel, the elements of horror that emerge during the witch battles [the animation style changes to a flat, stop-motiony style whenever a witch is around, and the ending credits are…off putting].

At 12 episodes, it’s a tightly wound narrative, nothing is wasted, it has none of the filler that tends to plague most anime shows. You could do worse than checking it out on Crackle.

And I’ve always been a sucker for a good J-Pop opening theme.

As for me and anime, I’m already three episodes into Attack on Titan. This could be a problem.

 

What’s Beef?: Summer Jam Edition

New York rap radio behemoth Hot97 held its annual Summer Jam concert in East Rutherford, NJ last night, featuring a bill of expected performers like Rick Ross and J-Cole, as well as up and comers like A$AP Rocky and Azealia Banks.

One person who did not appear was the advertised headliner Nicki Minaj.

It would seem that earlier in the day, Hot97 morning show host [and PFG hero] Peter Rosenberg took the side stage at the event to introduce Kendrick Lamar and plug a concert ticket giveaway. This is what he said:

So, people took to Twitter, it gets back to Nicki, it gets back to her label boss Lil Wayne, and then this happens.

Luckily, the show had unannounced appearances by Nas [who was going to perform with Nicki] and Lauryn Hill [who was going to perform with Nas] so the crowd didn’t wild out too badly and things didn’t end up going south.

I’ve been thinking about this all morning, and I kind of find it fascinating because it calls a bunch of things into question.

Judging from Rosenberg’s comments this morning, his criticism didn’t have much of anything to do with Nicki herself, but the creative direction she’s taken since she hit the major labels: the David Guetta guesting, Lil Kim-wig jacking space Barbie of Starships and Superbass instead of the lyrical beast that killed Hova and Kanye on Monster and held her own with Eminem. He’s entitled to that opinion, and there are probably a lot of people who were fans of Nicki from way back who wish she would get back to her roots. He’s allowed to not like her recent output, but the criticism that it’s ‘not hip-hop,’ is where things get troublesome. Yes, Starships is a dance track produced by the studio cabal that’s been making hits since the days of the Backstreet Boys. In clear ‘genre definition’ terms, it is not a rap song. But that doesn’t meant it’s not hip-hop. I, and other followers of the culture, put a lot of weight on the idea that hip-hop is first and foremost about being true not just to the realities of the streets, but to an artist’s own reality as well. Is Earl Sweatshirt not hip-hop? Is Cee-Lo? I’d say both are as hip-hop as you can get. If Nicki wants to get some of that Black Eyed Pea money, she can. It’s not rap, but that doesn’t mean it’s not hip-hop.

Still, while I disagree with the philosophy behind Rosenberg’s argument, he makes a valid point when he says if Nicki was that mad she should have just hit the stage and rapped her ass off. I’ll take it one further: to me, the real hip-hop thing to do would have been to just hit the stage and call Rosenberg a punk motherfucker, big herself up and be done with it. Hip-hop ain’t a game, but sometimes you have to play it like one.

Instead, she walked. After already being in the building. After already being paid. Scrolling through her Twitter, it seems she’s filing this under ‘R’ for ‘Respect.’ I mean, I can see that you don’t invite someone to your house only to shit on them, but let’s not pretend that Nicki was showing up out of the goodness of her heart. She got her money. You’re on top, people are going to take shots. You don’t make your fans eat it cause you got your feelings hurt. If Rosenberg’s comments are the worst thing anyone says about you this week, you are living a charmed life, my dear.

Conversely, Funkmaster Flex [never known for holding his tongue] took to the decks between performances and had some choice words of his own on the night’s events.

So. Let’s recap that:

-“If you lost the streets, it’s your fault.” TRUE.
-“If you don’t go Gold, it’s your fault.” TRUE.
-“We ain’t fuckin’ with commercial rappers no more.” FALSE.

-“I am dedicated to tearing you down!” COME ON, YO.

It’s nice that Flex is standing in solidarity, and I love it when he goes off as much as anyone else, but he cannot honestly think that his station will be getting out of the commercial rap game [‘commercial rap’ being as dubious a term as ‘the real hip-hop’]. Hot97 is not some little boutique station, and Flex ain’t Senor Love Daddy, he’s an employee of a giant multi-national Communications Conglomerate, and they like commercial rap. They need it. Just as much as YMCMB or Mindless Behaviour or any other of these 106 & Park acts need Hot97. Everyone’s going to have to play nice eventually, that’s the business reality.

One last item of note is a tweet and reply on Minaj’s Twitter feed between her and YMCMB colleague Jae Millz.

Now that’s…just a whole pallet of racial and gender issues packed into one tweet, that perhaps should be broken down by people smarter than me [Jay Smooth, where you at?]. While I think this is about the last goddamn thing that needs to have race brought into it [and Rosenberg has more than paid his dues and earned his stripes in the NY hip-hop community], it makes me wonder how often some of these artists, especially female artists, get frustrated by criticism from male fans and haters. When Rosenberg talks about the ‘real hip-hop’, he’s talking about a decidedly masculine hip-hop, something Nicki hasn’t been interested in for years. Something to think about.

At any rate, it’s unfortunate that an incident between too affluent individuals had to play out in public at the expense of fans who are mostly less affluent, and may have saved for months to make that show because they wanted to see Minaj. You want to do right, Nicki? You’re talking about a future NY make-up show? Let people swap their Summer Jam ticket stubs for admission to the new show. If this is about respect, give your fans the respect you feel you were robbed of.

Thirty Days of Stories: Day Fourteen

Title: Girl in Dryer

Author: Julie McArthur

Appears in: Broken Pencil #54

Premise: A young girl living in a skeevy apartment complex makes her way among aspiring drug dealers, middle school mean girlness and pot-bellied pigs. Currently unavailable to read online, but the issue is still on shelves.

Thoughts: Recently I had the good fortune of having my good friend, the poet and artist Annie Wong, drag me out of my cave for an evening of used bookstore browsery, poutine and pints in Toronto’s Annex neighbourhood.

I hold any time spent with Annie in high regard, as she sometimes feels like my one tenuous connection to anything resembling the Toronto literary scene, a phrase I admit leaves me with an upset stomach.  But when I talk to her about art, or what we’ve been reading, or what inspires our work, what we want it to be, I actually feel kind of good as a ‘writer’ *shudder*.

Anyhoo, Annie’s been doing some work with Toronto indie-arts institution Broken Pencil [a publication I’ve taken small issue with before] and sweet talked the clerk at the used bookstore into giving her a free copy, which she promptly gave me. I figured it would make for a good opportunity to check in on the state of underground fiction in the city, see what’s valued and if I could see a place for me there.

In short, no. But, Julie McArthur’s story, while not perfect by any means [and a bit of a comedown after the steady diet of Nelson, Moore and Hempel I’d been on up to this point] kept me from falling completely into despair.

The story has a compelling lead character in Alice, the girl who hides from the world in a defunct dryer in her building’s laundry room.  She has a mom who loves her but isn’t around much due to work, and a friend named Paul, an older guy in the neighbourhood who buys a potbellied pig for a pet and lets Alice hang out with it. She doesn’t expect a whole lot out of life and doesn’t seem to have mind.  She’s content to hang out with Wilbur the pig and snuggle up in her pink blanket reading her book in the dryer.

While I found the language kind of plain throughout [probably design, you can’t take these things for granted] McArthur actually managed to surprise me by subtly revealing a sinister underbelly to the narrative.  It’s in the way she deftly turns the character of Paul into something more dangerous.  When Alice informs him she witnessed some boys in her building stash a bag of drugs in an abandoned washroom, Paul suddenly becomes adamant about having her steal it and buying it from her. His motives are never revealed, nor are the repercussions when Alice finds the drugs are already gone, but he grows irritated in that way dangerous people do when a deal doesn’t go the way they’d hoped.  The way that danger slowly leaks into the story is admirable, and a welcome change from the other works in the issue, which go so desperately out of their way to be avant-garde. McArthur doesn’t want to play in that pool, and her story is all the better for it.

Lesson: You don’t need to throw zip! pow! cliffhangers at your reader. Sometimes it’s far more effective to let it seep into the story in drips.

Favourite line:  Didn’t have one. Like I said, the language is pretty workaday. Can’t have everything.

Thirty Days of Stories: Day Thirteen

Title: Charades

Author: Lorrie Moore

Appears in: Birds of America [1998]

Premise: The cracks in sibling relationships become evident during a holiday game of charades. Read it here.

Thoughts: Earlier in these proceedings I made mention that a lot of your favourite writers want to be Amy Hempel. True Story: whoever doesn’t want to be Amy Hempel wants to be Lorrie Moore.

Moore exploded on the literary stage [and into my heart] with her first short story collection Self-Help, which used the second-person voice so well amateurs have been ripping it off ever since [How to Become a Writer,  with its opening suggestion of “First, try to be something, anything, else” is probably one of the most passed around short stories in recent memory].  She hasn’t been terribly prolific since then, three short story collections and a pair of novels, but every word she’s put to page is incredible.

The two things I took from this story, which uses a sort of third person free-indirect narration told through the point of view of Therese, the oldest sibling in the family, had to do with word choice, shitty first drafts and surprising your reader.

There’s a moment where Therese, a circuit court judge, is thinking about her younger sister’s decision to go to law school: “…she had assumed Ann’s decision to be a lawyer is a kind of sororal affirmation…”  Look at that word: sororal. I don’t think I’ve ever seen it used before, anywhere.  I doubt Moore used it in an early draft of the work [pure conjecture].  She probably had ‘sisterly,’ and in the act of rewriting, decided that ‘sororal’ sounded better, set the tone of the sentence on a different level, suggested something about Therese and her level of education, how she views the world. Because who uses sororal?!  Every word is a choice, and when you’re blasting your idea down onto the paper, maybe the wording isn’t as flowery as you might like.  That’s fine, you can go back to the draft with a fine toothed comb in a week or so.  That’s how you change ‘sisterly’ to ‘sororal.’

I was talking yesterday about letting your characters surprise you, and how I wasn’t sure I knew how to do that.  Lo and behold, I read this story later that afternoon and Moore’s Therese manages to surprise me from out of nowhere with an offhanded comment about a public defender she’s been having a perfunctory affair with, despite loving her husband dearly.  It’s mentioned so nonchalantly in the narration, yet makes perfect sense for the character [I’ll include it as my favourite line from this story].

This all feeds into the idea of the value of rewriting, which is also something I’m either too good at or not good enough; when I’m not ignoring a half-finished story I can’t bear to look at again, I’m performing what Evan Connell called, ‘going through it and taking out commas and then going through the story again and putting the commas back in the same places.’  But you never get to ‘sororal,’ you never get to be surprised by your characters, if you can’t focus on what you’re doing when you go back to the draft.

Lesson: Write shitty first drafts. Don’t be scared of them. For more on this, read Anne Lamont’s brilliant essay of the same name.

Favourite Line: “He is ardent and capable and claims almost every night in his husbandly way to find Therese the sexiest woman he’s ever known. Therese likes that. She is also having an affair with a young assistant DA in the prosecutor’s office, but it is a limited thing — like taking her gloves off, clapping her hands and putting the gloves back on again. It is quiet and undiscoverable. It is nothing, except that is sex with a man who is not dyslexic, and once in a while, Jesus Christ, she needs that.”

Thirty Days of Stories: Day Twelve

Title: We and They

Author: Antonya Nelson

Appears in: Nothing Right [2009]

Premise: A progressive family in the early 90’s struggles to understand their adopted mix-race daughter.

Thoughts:  While my paperback copy of this collection is missing them, I’m fairly certain the hardcover enticed me with a murderer’s row of cover blurbs by everyone from Raymond Carver to Michael Chabon to David Foster Wallace.  Quite the endorsements.  The depressing thing is, Nelson deserves every one of them.

There’s a lot more going on in this story than that one line synopsis I provided would suggest, primarily the relationship between the adoptive family [The Landerses] and their relationship with the Catholic family across the street [The Pierces], the clash of values between them, and the reasoning for the Landerses adoption of the mixed-race toddlers Otis and Angel.

What I found the most striking about this story [and most stories in this collection, I’ve picked it apart pretty thoroughly as the margin scribbles throughout will attest; We and They was one of two stories I had yet to read in it] is how natural Nelson’s prose is.  Compare it to something like the Grace Paley story we looked at last time, where the writing is fantastic but moves at a slower pace, demands more concentration, Nelson’s writing just zips along, reading it is like cruising in a vintage roadster with the top down.  That isn’t to say the writing isn’t good, far from it. It just means, even at its most descriptive,  at its funniest, the prose is so relaxed and natural it never feels like any work went into it at all, which is of course the first sign that something is genius-level good.

I suspect, purely conjecture, that Nelson reads her work aloud a lot. In my experience it’s the only way to get prose that sounds that natural.  One of the few things I can admit that I do well is write dialogue, and a lot of that comes from reading out what I’ve written after a day of writing.  If it don’t sound right in your ear, it won’t sound right in a reader’s head.  Of course, you do run the danger there of tying your characters too tightly to the vision you have of them in your head, robbing them of the chance to live and breathe on their own [I admit, this is something I still have never had happened to me, they’ve never surprised me because they’re never alive to me, they’re just end up me in costume].  But if you’re going to find your ‘voice’, something I’m still not sure I have, then that’s the way to do it.

Lesson: Read out loud. Relinquish control of your characters. Really think of them as people, and not players you’re directing.

Favourite Line: “Our large family was not the result of Catholic faith and we didn’t attend Blessed Sacrament church or school, despite the fact that it was a stone’s throw away from our house. We threw stones, so we knew.”

Thirty Days of Stories: Day Eleven

Title: A Conversation With My Father

Author: Grace Paley

Appears in: Enormous Changes at the Last Minute [1974]; The Collected Stories [1994]

Premise: An unnamed author and her dying father argue about styles of storytelling. You can read it here, or even better, listen to the British author Ali Smith read it on the Guardian podcast page.

Thoughts: I don’t recall where or why, but I know I came to Grace Paley because Charles Baxter was always going on about her and how great she was [he even scores the cover blurb on her Collected Stories]. And, as I’ve previously discussed in these posts, I’m a sucker for ‘Collected Works’ editions that present the whole of an author’s career in one volume.  I think it makes me feel better about my limited output, like ‘Hey, Grace Paley lived into her 80’s and this one 360-page paperback is the sum of her fictional career!  I can totally pull that off!” But I also find comfort and solace in dipping in and out of an author’s work, different points in their lives, by flipping the pages and stopping at random, or scanning the table of contents for a title that pings an echo in my mind.

Paley’s ‘A Conversation With My Father,’ is one of my favourite short stories [I should really spend a minute to compile them one day].  It’s a story about storytelling, about stories within stories, and about how we use stories.  The narrator’s father chides her for her inability to write a simple story like Chekhov or Maupassant, “Just recognizable people and then write down what happened to them next.”

This idea makes the narrator uncomfortable but she tries for his sake [and why do most readers assume the narrator is a woman? There’s nothing in the text to confirm that]. She tells him a story about a woman he becomes a junky to stay close to her son, only for the son to clean up and abandon her. When her father complains she left too much out, she tries again, making the story longer and flowering the language but no more detailed. In the story’s final movement the father and narrator argue over whether the mother in the story’s life is over: the father sees her as a tragedy, the narrator chooses to believe the mother will change her life at age 40 and get a job as a medical receptionist.  The father responds in what are the story’s strongest moments, nearly begging his daughter to accept the tragedies of life, and how they cannot be negotiated with, asking, ‘When will you look it in the face?’

The story’s conclusion are when all the elements, after circling around each other, coalesce and tie together a theme and moral with a stunning subtlety: the father wants the narrator to accept that he’s dying, to relinquish the jokes and face the reality of their situation, but she cannot do it, she needs to temper the situation with jokes and cynicism and stubborn optimism; that’s why she argues that the mother will change her life, she wants to give her the happy ending she knows her father is already past, something her father views as an act of cowardice.  All this emotion and power in six pages, it’s incredible.

Paley’s word choices and metaphors throughout the story are impeccable, and will startle you with their beauty out of nowhere.  Paley started her career as a poet and ‘A Conversation,’ as with most of Paley’s work, bears a poet’s fingerprints. It’s a good thing to remember, that for as much as I’m reading these stories to learn things about structure and plotting and character development, adding a side of poetry into the mix can do wonders for my language and metaphorical thought.

Lesson: Read more poetry.

Favourite line:  “My father is eighty-six years old and in bed. His heart, that bloody motor, is equally old and will not do certain jobs any more. It still floods his head with brainy light. But it won’t let his legs carry the weight of his body around the house.”

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.”