This charming novelette actually comprises two tales: one longish short story of about 40 pages and a flash fiction of about 4 pages, bothDelightful—
This charming novelette actually comprises two tales: one longish short story of about 40 pages and a flash fiction of about 4 pages, both inspired by Japanese culture. They're highly engaging and satisfying to read, even for someone originally from that culture. Whenever a story that takes place in a different culture is written by an outsider, there’s always the fear of abuse and misunderstanding, of caricaturing—that is, the possibility of cultural appropriation. But Baker’s respect for the culture is clearly seen in the loving care he takes in depicting Japan in its cultural specificity and faithfulness. The reader knows they’re in the hands of a skilled writer who knows what he is doing.
Cultural note aside, if you like or have any interest in Sci-fi, Japan, or fantasy—and/or heard of Borges, The King of Elfland's Daughter, H.G. Well's The Time Machine—then this is a story for you.
The main story, told in diary format, is engaging and moves along at a good clip, but the storytelling is only the beginning; what Baker excels at is depicting scenes with the precision and vividness of haiku, coupled with the creation of a convincing voice he creates throughout the work. Just listen to the comforting rhythm of the voice, the imagery in this passage:
"In the city of Hakodate, where we have taken rooms at an inn, Western-style homes loom above drifts of snow as tall as a man. The streets are cleared, and people rush along them bundled in many layers of clothing, their breath steaming white from their mouths.
Outside the city the snow is broken only by the green of pines and stark browns of bleak myrtles. Ryouji is pleased with the vastness of the place. The woman is impatient—eager, she claims, to be home. I am that in truth, though I should not be: 'home‘ is but a feeling which distracts and entangles."
While I enjoyed the story very much, it is lyrical and true moments like this that I appreciated the most in it. Another instance where I was particularly impressed by was the poignant moment he creates out of the sci-fi-fantasy-Zen mesh and the rather tropic device of parallel universes. Having lost his wife, the protagonist, Ryoji, ends up summoning another version of her from another reality, and they travel together so she can go back to her world. In an emotional exchange between them toward the end of the story, Baker goes above and beyond simplistic genre characterization by showing a surprising depth of character:
“I‘m sorry,” he said. “I didn‘t want to upset you, and I . . . “ He sighed and looked down, ashamed. “I was so happy to find you again that I did not want to make you hate me. I could not bear to lose you twice so soon.”
She let out a soft snort of air through her nose, scorn now on her lips instead of sorrow. “Lose me? Lose me? I was never yours, other-Ryouji, and this does not change things. As your abbot tells you over and over when he thinks I am not listening, your wife is dead.”
I was never yours—with that, the other-Akemi comes to full life (for me at least), and with that, Baker manages, however temporarily, to transcend genre.
The second story needs little commenting as it is a delightful read on its own, a tale based on the myth of a legendary Japanese prince Yamato Takeru and succinctly and creatively reimagined from the point of view of one of his daughters. Here, more than in the main story, his talent as a haikuist shines as he sculpts the story in such a way that you're left wondering how he manages to tell so much with so little.
Just listen to this: "Play your favorite songs / for everyone who will listen, / and the way the old records beMade Me Excited to Write Poetry Again--
Just listen to this: "Play your favorite songs / for everyone who will listen, / and the way the old records bend like dementia—that." And Mlekoday's poetry is that, dementia—slick, vinyl-covered nightmare of city life remixed in Hip Hop cadence & with John-Donne-esque spirituality. For those of you who think contemporary poetry is confusing as hell or just indignantly obscure, this is a book you should read and let hymn through you (as Mlekoday might say). Accessible and powerful, it resurrects the Minneapolis of his childhood & loss, and graffities it with ferocity, with gunshot freshness, with spirituality that is at once intensely personal & fitting, counterpointing the brutality of urban life like a soft axe that bitch-slaps you out of nightmare: "I have skinned / the animal I found in me / & watched him wrench himself / back into the flesh. / I have made gods / of my skinned hands."
Read it. Find the animal in you, see it transformed into gods.