cover image Losing Kei

Losing Kei

Suzanne Kamata, . . Leapfrog, $14.95 (195pp) ISBN 978-0-9728984-9-2

Pushcart Prize–nominee Kamata follows an American woman out of her depth in Japan in this thin debut novel. Young South Carolina painter Jill Parker flees to Japan after a breakup in the late '80s, hoping to pursue the life and work of Blondelle Malone, a late–19th-century South Carolina artist who had also ventured to Japan for inspiration. After a stint in Tokyo, and knowing some Japanese, Jill ensconces herself in comfortable anonymity on the island of Shikoku, where there are few foreigners, save the surfer Eric, who gets her a job as a hostess at the seedy Cha Cha Club. At a gallery opening, Jill meets gallery owner Yusuke Yamashiro; he offers her a show and they soon marry. Before they do, the demands of a traditional Japanese marriage are clear to Jill, who has lived in Japan long enough to have her eyes wide open. After living with icy Yusuke and his critical mother, and giving birth to a boy, Kei, Jill ceases to paint and finds her sense of self dissolving. She plans her divorce and attempts to flee the country with her son, but is thwarted and threatened by Yusuke. In alternating chapters, set in the late '80s and late '90s, Jill spies on Kei, spiraling into self-pity and alcohol abuse, yet it's hard to feel sympathy for her self-perpetuated plight. Vivid atmosphere and characterization make one wish for a tighter plot. (Jan.)