cover image Tokyo Sketches: Short Stories

Tokyo Sketches: Short Stories

Pete Hamill. Kodansha International (JPN), $20 (160pp) ISBN 978-4-7700-1697-3

Last year Michael Crichton's Rising Sun depicted Japan as the U.S.'s economic enemy and set off a xenophobic frenzy. Hamill's ( The Invisible City ) modest collection of 13 short stories has the opposite effect, making that distant culture seem eerily close to ours. His simple themes of love, loss, longing and deception are joined to powerful emotions, and reveal a psychological bond between the two countries. The central characters--both Japanese and American--are at the crossroads of the two cultures: a Tokyo reporter at her first English-language interview encounters a blind blues singer; a visiting WW II vet runs head on into an old heartbreak; a Japanese boy turns desolate without the friends he had before his father died, when they all lived in Louisiana; an aging baseball star, the designated gaijin on a Japanese team, learns an unexpected lesson from the native coach. Hamill has reached into seemingly disparate subcultures within each country--blues, samurai, baseball, yakuza--to craft moments of striking self-recognition. His spare, simple prose seems, in this context, to owe as much to such Japanese influences as flower arranging and haiku as it does to his muscular journalism and masculine fiction. But his fine accomplishment in this volume is to make the two influences appear to spring from the same source. While the stylistic simplicity can occasionally seem reductive (from time to time, he waves the emotional semaphores of sports stories), the pieces more often are gently, consciously restrained, and the overall effect is very strong. (Mar.)