cover image Still Lives

Still Lives

Natsuki Ikezawa. Kodansha International (JPN), $25 (176pp) ISBN 978-4-7700-2185-4

Falling somewhere between the avant-garde austerity of Kenzaburo Oe and the pop-culture postmodernism of Haruki Murakami, Ikezawa's collection of five longish short stories covers the theme of everyday Japanese alienation in an accessible if occasionally portentous way. In ""Still Life,"" the narrator becomes friends with a mysterious man with a questionable past who asks to use his name in a shady investment scheme. Although the story involves false identities and criminal deeds, it is more concerned with their philosophical rather than their narrative aspects. Such stories as ""Ya Chaika"" and ""Gliding Through a Forest of Ladders"" sacrifice narrative to somewhat forced celebrations of nonconformity. On the other hand, the strong ""Uplink"" and ""Revenant"" firmly anchor Ikezawa's philosophical musings in engaging, almost magical-realist plots. Despite the tonal unevenness that Keene's translation shares with most English versions of colloquial Japanese, admirers of Japanese fiction at its most meditative will take pleasure in these tales, one of which won Ikezawa the Akutagawa Prize, Japan's highest literary honor. (Feb.)