Tuesday, June 24, 2014
Elsewhen Press, paperback, 240 pp.
Reviewed by Richard Donovan
Once there was a woman from Japan who for reasons known only to herself travelled to the exotic heartlands of Surrey and met and married Dave. Dave was enchanted with Japan when they visited together, and, feeling that he now understood the place, decided to write about it. He constructed a series of very short stories with a linking character between each, and the final story looping back to complete the 'daisy chain'. He was a bit shaky on the spelling of advanced Japanese terms like 'kotatsu', but he sent the file to his editor anyway, as he'd said he'd wanted it by Tuesday.
Dave's editor liked to take a hands-off approach to editing - he expected the author's original words to 'speak for themselves', and anyway, he had a huge slush pile of vampire fiction to read through before Monday. So he didn't bother correcting the egregiously large number of basic typos that plagued the text like a band of killer mosquitos on a sultry Kyoto night. Even his paragraph indents were half-hearted.
The printer, too, couldn't care less about whether the words on the page were correct. She had a dozen orders to churn through by Sunday, and also, the editor had instructed her to send out a few of Weaver's print run to the owners of Japan-connected websites. The editor thought they might be good for a review and move some copies for them.
The head of JapanVisitor knew he had a reviewer who enjoyed Japan-related western lit., so he sent the copy on to Richard, who was indeed happy to give it a go. He had a soft spot for people enthusiastic about a subject and with reasonable writing skills who got their work published by a small press and were competing in a market increasingly dominated by the lucky few who were able to make a name for themselves.
Richard felt Dave's first story, set on Mt. Aso, was a rather weak start to the suite with its predictable 'twist', but he did notice that the pacing was good. 'Finding Uncle', about a loser guy who connects through time with a boy trapped under rubble in post-Bomb Hiroshima, was a reasonable if again familiar premise, but ruined by the implausible depiction of the boy's shadow on the wall preserved in the museum: he was either above ground and vaporized in the flash, or buried under the rubble in the basement. It couldn't be both.
However, as he got into the book, Richard found a few pieces that were deftly written and even managed to introduce characters that freshly portrayed an aspect of Japan's culture - like 'The Cop and the Monk', in which a jizo statue comes to life and has a direct line to stillborn and aborted children on his cell phone. Sadly, though, too many stories presented generic portraits that could equally have been plucked from a Western urban setting. The 'hidden world' behind the mundane with which Dave tried hard to inject a coup de frisson into the proceedings came off as sub-Murakami and again not especially 'Japanese'.
Overall, Dave's work, with its interconnected lives and stabs at magic realism, most reminded Richard of Life in the Cul-de-Sac by Senji Kuroi, but the comparison was again invidious. Richard found himself wishing that the God of the Apostrophe, of the Spellcheck, would rise up out of the page and save the text from itself.
Sadly, it was not to be. Richard glanced back at his review. Had he been too harsh, too dismissive? He flicked through the book one more time. His eyes fixed on one word he'd highlighted, and his scowl became similarly set.
No, I think I've been fair, he thought. After all, the author and his apparently absent editor had blasphemed the golden god "Kirrin." And anyway, Richard wanted to fire off the review by Saturday. He had some serious resting to do.
Japanese Daisy Chain is available from Amazon.co.uk in a Kindle edition.
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