The Funeral of a Giraffe: Seven Stories by Tomioka Taeko

Tomioka Taeko, Author, Taeko Tomioka, Author, Noriko Mizuta, Translator
Tomioka Taeko, Author, Taeko Tomioka, Author, Noriko Mizuta, Translator M.E. Sharpe $58.95 (200p) ISBN 978-0-7656-0441-5
Paperback - 160 pages - 978-0-7656-0442-2
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Disarming records of numb lives, bad sex and failed intimacy, Tomioka's disturbing stories feature characters who are adrift, maintaining only mercurial relationships with their community and with each other. Japanese readers and viewers know Tomioka as a screenwriter, novelist, poet and feminist literary critic. The exceedingly plain, deliberately charmless style she chose for these seven short fictions (published in Japan in 1975) can seem, in English, frustrating or dull; her prose works best when describing the grossness of human obsession. In ""A Dog's Eye View,"" a tormented young man stalks his distant cousin, wracked by a love he cannot express in normal fashion. A free-living young woman in the title story brings her boyfriend's corpse to her sophisticated but baffled mother's house for an impromptu memorial service. In ""Yesteryear,"" a man renowned for his instruction in ancient tea ceremonies inexplicably renounces his job and family to live alone. When his wife runs out of money, she visits him, and he immediately rapes her, making his former profession seem a mere sublimation of violent lust. Tomioka's sparse approach works in stories like these, whose centers are bizarre or appalling events. Her blank narration fails when she comes to quieter characters and relationships. When a daughter realizes, near the end of ""Days of Dear Death,"" that she cannot communicate with her once-domineering mother, the discovery lacks immediacy and force. Similarly, in ""Time Table,"" a single woman's casual description of overlapping relationships with men (named Q, R and S) yields no insight into her character. The narrator of ""Yesterday's Girl"" progresses from homosexual experiments to a relationship with a young bore (described simply as ""the man who spoke no more than a dog"") without ever revealing the synaptic infrastructure of her changing desires. The translators' introduction and an appended interview with Tomioka link her narrative practice to her feminist goals, and to her film and theater work. (July)
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