BOOK REVIEW: A Very Irish Christmas by Various

A Very Irish Christmas: The Greatest Irish Holiday Stories of All TimeA Very Irish Christmas: The Greatest Irish Holiday Stories of All Time by Various
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

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Out: September 14, 2021

This anthology contains fourteen previously published pieces by prominent Irish authors, including: Joyce, Yeats, and Colm Tóibín. It’s mostly short fiction, but there are a few poems as well as a couple of excerpts from longer works. All the pieces are set around (or reference) Christmas, but the degree to which that plays into the story varies a great deal. The anthology is very Irish, but not always very Christmassy. Meaning, if you’re expecting a collection of pieces like Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” where the joy or melancholy of the season is front-and-center throughout and the holiday, itself, is a pivotal story element, you won’t find that in a number of these selections. Often, the season is just an element of ambiance or of short-lived emotional resonance.

That said, the selections are all artfully written and each is intriguing in its own way. In the case of Joyce’s “The Dead” the appeal is the evocative language and creation of setting (though the piece does have more explicit story than, say, “Ulysses.”) Whereas, for pieces like Keegan’s “Men and Women” or Trevor’s “Christmas Eve” the point of interest might be the story, itself. Besides the Irish author / Christmas reference nexus, the included works cover a wide territory including contemporary works (keeping in mind the authors are mostly from the 20th century) and those that hearken back to days of yore. Some are secular; while others are explicitly Catholic.

I enjoyed this anthology, finding it to be a fine selection of masterfully composed writings.

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BOOK REVIEW: Taboos and Transgressions ed. by Luanne Smith, Kerry Neville, and Devi S. Laskar

Taboos and Transgressions: Stories of WrongdoingsTaboos and Transgressions: Stories of Wrongdoings by Luanne Smith
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

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This anthology collects twenty-four gritty stories of familial dysfunction, lives in poverty, and various forms of wrongdoing. While there is a common theme and all the stories are situated in a realist context, there is a rich variety among the stories. A few are sparse and obscure, but most fit within the usual page range and level of story development for magazine published short stories. But there is considerable diversity to the “wrongdoing” of the story, ranging from subjective peccadillos to outright felonies, with the protagonist sometimes being the perpetrator but other times being victims or witnesses. Most, if not all, of the anthologized stories have been previously published.

Among my personal favorites were: “The God Box” (Michael Gaspeny,) “The Tao of Good Families” (Soniah Kamal,) “I Still Like Pink” (Francine Rodriguez,) “She Sheds Her Skin” (Kyle Ingrid Johnson,) and “Goatmartie” (J.C. Sasser.) That said, your preferences may vary, and the most famous authors with included pieces are probably Kim Addonizio (“True Crime”) and Joyce Carol Oates (“Gargoyle.”)

While the title might suggest erotica or even pornography, the included stories are literary fiction and, while some mention happenings that are properly taboo, few really revolve around those activities. There is some prostitution and unsubstantiated allegations of bestiality, but readers need not be concerned that there is anything sexually or violently graphic among the stories. (Certainly, no more than one would read in Philip Roth or Erica Jong.)

If you enjoy gritty, realist short stories, this collection offers a fine and diverse selection of such works.

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BOOK REVIEW: The Neil Gaiman Library, Vol. 3 by Neil Gaiman

The Neil Gaiman Library Volume 3The Neil Gaiman Library Volume 3 by Neil Gaiman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

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Out: June 1, 2021

 

This series collects short fiction of Neil Gaiman and presents it via the medium of the graphic novel. While there are four works listed, because two of these works contain multiple stories, there are actually eight stories contained in this volume. The selection is diverse both in terms of genre and artistic style. With respect to genre, the stories cut across fairy tale, fantasy, horror, supernatural, and tales of the weird. The artistic styles range from art nouveau to comic strip style. While this is the third volume, the included stories all stand on their own, and so there is no necessity to have read previous volumes. Because Gaiman draws heavily on fairy tale source material, parents might assume these are kid-friendly stories, but you should check them out first yourself as “Snow, Glass, Apples” and “The Daughter of Owls” both present somewhat sexually explicit content (the former both graphically and with respect to story events and the latter only with respect to story,) and while the horror stories are pretty calm as horror stories go, they are still works of horror.

“Snow, Glass, Apples” is a dark take on the princess-centric fairy tale. It imagines a vampiric young nymph who appears as challenger to the Queen. This is probably the most visually impressive work, being illustrated in a style that mixes art nouveau with Harry Clark’s stain glass artworks. It is definitely not the run-of-the mill graphic novel, graphically speaking. The art is exceptionally detailed and stunning.

“The Problem with Susan and Other Stories”: As the title suggests, this is one of the two multi-story entries in the collection. The titular main story features a retired Professor who is plagued by Narnia-like dreams, and who receives a visit from a reporter for a college paper. The art for this one is much more reminiscent of the typical graphic novel of today. There are three other stories included. “Locks,” the comic strip-esque illustrated story, is a take on “Goldilocks and the Three Bears” as it’s being told to – and imagined by – a little girl. “October in the Chair” imagines a kind of story competition taking place around a campfire by anthropomorphized “months.” It’s a bit more artistically rendered than the other stories in this [sub-] collection (although that may have to do with the dark tone that is used to reinforce that the stories are being told in the middle of the night in the middle of a woods.) The final story is a brief, but artistically dense, story that imagines a day in which everything goes wrong at once.

The sixth story, “Only the End of the World Again,” revolves around a man / werewolf who wakes up to find that he has clearly turned in the preceding night. The tale is set in a small and remote village, where everyone seems to know everything about everyone, and it doesn’t shock the man when select people let slip that they know his secret. As the story unfolds, it’s clear that the man / werewolf is caught up in something bigger than his own tragedy.

The last entry is a two-parter. The first is one of my favorite Neil Gaiman short stories; entitled, “The Price,” it offers an answer to the question of why some indoor / outdoor cats constantly come home battered and bleeding. The second story, “The Daughter of Owls,” revolves around “the baby left on the church steps” plot mechanism. Because the girl is enveloped in owl accoutrements, she is shunned by the village and forced into exile at a dilapidated former abbey. Both of these stories have a more brush-painted style that the usual graphic novel.

I enjoyed this collection immensely. While not all of the stories were new to me, the way they were illustrated shone a new light on the familiar tales. All of the stories are masterfully crafted and illustrated. While Gaiman draws heavily on well-known fairy tales, there is nothing banal about these stories. I’d highly recommend this book, even if you’ve read some of the stories already.

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BOOK REVIEW: The Neil Gaiman Library, Vol. 2 by Neil Gaiman

The Neil Gaiman Library Volume 2The Neil Gaiman Library Volume 2 by Neil Gaiman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

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Out: November 24, 2020

 

This is a graphic novelization of several pieces of Neil Gaiman’s short fiction. The component works are all speculative fiction (i.e. taking place where the fantastical is possible,) and – more specifically – most would be classed urban fantasy — though there is a touch of horror.

The book contains four parts, and could be thought of as four stories. However, the first chapter, “Likely Stories,” is actually a collection of tales connected by being told in the same private after-hours club. So, the connective tissue is bar patrons trying to one-up each other with more intriguing stories. The pieces included are: “Feeders and Eaters” (the entry most likely to be classified as horror,) “Looking for a Girl,” and “Closing Time.”

The second story is “Troll Bridge,” and it shows a man’s repeated encounters with a troll who exists in the pedestrian tunnel under an abandoned rail line. These meetings begin when the protagonist is a young boy and continue until he’s middle-aged.

The penultimate story is entitled “Harlequin Valentine,” and it’s about an amorous Harlequin who develops an infatuation with a young woman and begins to stalk her. When he gives her his heart, it doesn’t go as expected.

The final story is “The Facts in the Case of the Disappearance of Miss Finch.” When a writer is roped into a double date in which his date is a dowdy and humorless scholar, the night that had been a train of misery ends in a mind-blowing (if disconcerting) fashion.

This was an excellent read. While it’s a second volume, because it’s short fiction, the book is completely self-contained. One doesn’t need to read the first volume beforehand to follow these tales. Each of the stories is satisfying in itself. I’d read at least one of these stories previously (possibly more) but it didn’t feel redundant because the conversion of the textual stories to graphic ones gives each an entirely different feel. The art is clear and the various styles match the tone of the respective stories nicely. If you like Neil Gaiman’s work, you should definitely check this one out. [And if you’re unfamiliar with Gaiman, I’d recommend you get familiar.]

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BOOK REVIEW: Dream Machine by Su-Yee Lin

Dream Machine (A Short Story) (Kindle Single)Dream Machine (A Short Story) by Su-Yee Lin
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

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This surreal short story is a reprint from “Day One” magazine that is available as a Kindle Single. The story is about a factory in an industrial part of Shanghai that seems to make metal objects / shapes, the purpose of which no one seems to understand. The protagonist is – at the start of the the story – the newest of the half-dozen employees who work at the plant. The story has a sparse feeling that ranges from the fact that the characters are designated only with a single letter to the fact that we really don’t get much indication of the broad and bustling city of Shanghai in which the story is supposedly set.

It isn’t easy to convey a world that isn’t quite right – seemingly like the world we are familiar with, but just a little off. I thought the author did a good job of this.

I enjoyed this story immensely. I thought the author used strategic ambiguity nicely. There are a few ways I believe one could reasonably interpret this story. If you are the kind that needs to have iron-clad clarity, that might be a bit aggravating. [If you’ve seen the Christopher Nolan movie “Inception,” and you liked that it left an open ending, this story is for you. If you insist that there is no ambiguity to the ending and that the top definitely toppled or didn’t, you might not enjoy it as much.]

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BOOK REVIEW: The Illustrated Man by Ray Bradbury

The Illustrated ManThe Illustrated Man by Ray Bradbury
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

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This is a collection of 18 science fiction short stories by Ray Bradbury, featuring: space travel, androids, time travel, and alien invasions. However, many of the stories use science-fiction – space travel most extensively — to investigate down-to-earth subjects such as: religion, marital relationships, war, and race relations. The fact that the collection deals in everyday subject matter allows it to retain its relevancy. The sci-fi is definitely dated, from the fact that “Martian” is used as a synonym for alien to the Cold War themes, but the stories are still worth reading because they are well-crafted and continue to be thought-provoking.

The stories of this collection are integrated by the titular story. The Illustrated Man is a character who had his body covered in tattoos to continue his employment with the carnival, but the witch who tattooed him made shape-shifting images that told stories. The story of “The Illustrated Man” is the last in the collection, but there’s a prologue that sets it up. It’s not a novel-in-stories, however, as the stories aren’t connected — other than being collected into a universe of this character’s flesh. The end of several stories feature a quick reference to the Illustrated Man narrative arc, but generally there’s no other connective tissue to the stories.

Here is a brief overview of the stories:

“The Veldt”: spoiled kids are given access to a technology that goes one step beyond virtual reality to what might be called mentally constructed reality. They create an African savanna, and things go awry.

“Kaleidoscope”: An accident causes astronauts to be scattered into space, not dying immediately, but knowing the limited resources of their spacesuits will not last long. This is among the more popular stories in the collection.

“The Other Foot”: A white man is forced to take refuge on a planet that minorities had long-ago been relocated to, because now a war has made the Earth uninhabitable. The story deals with the tension between those who are willing to welcome him and those who think he should be treated as they once were.

“The Highway”: A man living and working near a desolate stretch of highway meets a rare visitor who tells him that war is upon them. One of the Cold War end-of-the-world scenario stories.

“The Man”: The Captain of a spaceship is disappointed to find that none of the locals come to see them when they land. Little does he know, they were just visited by a Messianic figure the day before. The tension is between the non-believing, skeptical Captain and one of his men who is a true believer. A commentary on faith and belief.

“The Long Rain”: Space explorers are demoralized by the unceasing rain on a planet they are exploring, a rain that threatens to send them into madness.

“The Rocket Man”: The son of a space traveler wants to follow in his father’s footsteps, but doesn’t know how hazardous a life it is.

“The Last Night of the World”: This story asks one to contemplate what if one knew it was the last night before doomsday. Another Cold War-era sci-fi piece that hinges on atomic apocalypse.

“The Exiles”: A crew of space explorers is falling to inexplicable illness. This story has a great deal of literary allusion with Ambrose Bierce, Edgar Allan Poe, and Charles Dickens each playing a part. Like Bradbury’s most famous novel, the story considers the issue of censorship.

“No Particular Night or Morning”: This story considers the question of how one knows anything is true. It does so through the lens of a spaceship crewman afflicted with solipsistic delusions – or so his crew-mates assume.

“The Fox and the Forest”: In this time travel story, a couple has escaped a dystopian future into Mexico, circa 1938, but the authorities of their time don’t intend to let them get away.

“The Visitor”: The story of a man with powerful psychic abilities who is coveted by competing factions.

“The Concrete Mixer”: A Martian pacifist is forced to participate in an invasion of Earth, only to find that it is an ill-advised endeavor for reasons entirely different from he’d thought. The story revolves around the centrality of materialism and consumerism in American culture.

“Marionettes, Inc.”: One man gets a look-alike android to cope with a wife who hates him, and another gets one to contend with a wife who is smotheringly needy.

“The City”: Explorers find that the abandoned city they’ve been sent to explore isn’t as free of sentience as they’d thought.

“Zero Hour”: Alien invaders find an unexpected ally in the impressionable youth.

“The Rocket”: A man wants his family to see the stars, but lacks the resources to make the dream come true. So, he gets creative.

“The Illustrated Man”: As referenced above, this story tells the tale of carnival tattoo’d man whose body-art mysteriously tells stories through its images, with special focus on two special designs.

I’ve never found a Bradbury work I didn’t like, and this one is no exception. The writing is beautiful. The story-telling is skillful, and, even when the sci-fi details are dated, there are themes that remain relevant. I’d highly recommend this collection for readers of sci-fi, particularly those who like classic sci-fi.

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BOOK REVIEW: The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

The Yellow WallpaperThe Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

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This short story, written in the last decade of the 19th century, tells the story of a sad woman’s descent into madness. The lead is an upper-class lady, wife of a doctor, and is staying in a rented mansion with her husband and her husband’s sister (who acts as their housekeeper) through the summer. The protagonist has been diagnosed with a depressive disorder with hysterical tendencies, and the story serves as an indictment of the way in which mental illness was treated.

It’s not clear what the true nature of the protagonist’s mental or emotional infirmity was at the beginning of her move to the summer-house, but it’s clear that the treatment makes her state of mind much worse. That treatment was a so-called “rest-cure,” and it prohibited her from working, writing (which is now known to be quite therapeutic), or doing much else, save for staring at the walls – hence the title. As happens when the mind is shut-off from external stimuli, it starts to form its own stories that become projected into the individual’s world in the form of hallucinations. In the protagonist’s case, these hallucinations play out in (and behind) the irregular wallpaper pattern.

The fact that the woman’s husband is a doctor, ironically, contributes to her worsening condition because she accepts his “treatment” as being formulated by a great authority. As much as it is an indictment of the specific treatment offered (i.e. “rest-cures”), it may be even more of an indictment of the belief that there exists an infallible authority on the mind. A humbler doctor might have listened to his patient, and adjusted course when it became clear the patient was getting worse under the existing treatment.

This is a very quick read. It may be slow in places, as one might expect of a story that involves a substantial amount of staring at, and contemplation of, wallpaper, but as her condition becomes more serious the story becomes gripping and the nature of reality more in question. The edition that I read contained drawings.

I found this story both intriguing and thought-provoking, and would recommend it for all readers.

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BOOK REVIEW: Understories by Tim Horvath

UnderstoriesUnderstories by Tim Horvath

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

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Two traits of Tim Horvath are rapidly revealed in reading the collection of stories entitled, Understories. First, he’s an academic to the core. Second, he loves words and the way they can be jigged around to create not only meaning but feeling. Combined, these characteristics yield both positive and negative outcomes.

On the positive side, Horvath writes what he knows, and this can be seen in tales like: The Understory, The Discipline of Shadows, Tilkez, and even Circulation. Horvath paints a vivid picture of life in academia with The Understory and The Discipline of Shadows in particular, replete with scholarly rivalry and interdepartmental politics. While that may make the book sound stunningly boring, those two stories are among the strongest–in part because the author knows how to build tension and character in this domain. His bookish characters are constructed with wit and depth.

On the other hand, this book is for the ones who love language more than they love story. The readability isn’t high. Horvath peppers the text with words that many of us memorized to take our GRE test but never used after receipt of our acceptance letter. Many avid readers never learned such words in the first place. This is where the Kindle edition, and its capability for instantaneous word lookup, comes in handy. (Though, the author does manage to stymie Kindle’s internal dictionary on a number of cases.) The shorter pieces tended to leave me wondering if Horvath had a point other than to dazzle with verbiage. To be fair, it’s not just monosyllabic and pretentious words that Horvath loves. He has a taste for all sorts of words that are evocative and powerful, be they whimsical, sexual, or emotional.

Understories consists of 21 short stories, but I use the term “story” loosely. Some of the chapters are stories in a conventional sense. That is, they have a beginning, a middle, and an end, and a character who takes some sort of personal journey. Other pieces are the literary equivalent of the masturbatory orgasm; they’re pleasant to experience but beg the question of what the objective is. The contents of the book are below. I’ll restrict my commentary to the more substantial pieces, and leave the reader to figure out what Horvath was trying to get at with the others.

1. The Lobby: This is really an artistic introduction and rules for reading the book.

2. Urban Planning: Case Study #1: This is the first of 8 such “case studies.” With the exception of one, they’re all flash pieces.

3. Circulation: If I had to pick a best story of the anthology, it would be this one. It’s about a man whose eccentric father is in the hospital with mind and body that aren’t what they used to be. The man is Director of Circulation for his hometown library, and the father has one published book and spent much of his life working on an unfinished Atlas of the Voyages of Things. The sub-story about the books as a reflection of the man is what gives this something extra beyond the usual “Cats in the Cradle” (Harry Chapin reference) narrative.

4. Urban Planning: Case Study #2: Another brief piece.

5. The Understory: This is one of the full length stories, and is one of the best pieces. It’s about the bringing together and falling apart of a platonic relationship between two scholars. Set in pre-war Germany, the story opens with a scholarly rivalry between two professors who become good friends. However, one of the men is a Jew and the other is promoted to a Deanship because he has appeal with the Nazis.

6. Urban Planning: Case Study #3

7. The Discipline of Shadows: This is the story of a professor in the Department of Umbrology. What’s Umbrology? It’s the study of shadows. An interdisciplinary department with a unifying theme of shadows provides and intriguing background for a story that’s not so out of the ordinary. The story delves into scholastic politics and a sordid intradepartmental love triangle.

8. Urban Planning: Case Study #4

9. Planetarium: This is story proper. It’s about the reunion of two high school buddies, and their differing recollections of a seminal event of their youth involving shenanigans at a planetarium. The story is an odd sort of confession.

10. The Gendarmes: This story will appeal to lovers of the surreal. It’s about a man who discovers that a team of scientists are playing baseball on his roof.

11. A Box of One’s Own: An eloquent tale of the curiosity inspired by boxes.

12. Internodium: This is another short piece.

13. Urban Planning: Case Study #5: This one probably ties for my favorite flash piece. It’s about a city that evolves into all restaurants.

14. Runaroundandscreamalot!: There’s a lot of humor sprinkled throughout this book, but this is the one story one might put in the humor genre. It’s funny from the title onward, which is the protagonist’s pet name for a generic Chuck-E-Cheese-esque place called “Playalot”—which is a medieval-themed kid’s play palace. The protagonist, a divorced man, takes his daughter there and meets a woman that he proceeds to try to get to know better despite only knowing her as “Hanh’s Mom” for most of the story.

15. Urban Planning: Case Study #6: This is the other tie-holder for best flash piece. It’s about a city in denial.

16. Pocket: A flash piece on, well… pockets.

17. Altered Narrative: A short and experimental piece.

18. Urban Planning: Case Study #7: This is the only one of these “Urban Planning Case Studies” that is a short story in the usual sense. It’s about a [grown man] film projectionist who abandons his post after seeing his wife with another man.

19. The Conversations: There’s a fair amount of surrealism sown throughout this book, but this is one of the more speculative pieces. That said, it’s really just about the death and resurrection of the conversation—along with “mint.” The sci-fi component revolves around speculation about precisely caused it and what the difference is between a “Conversation” and a “conversation.” The latter being what we normally think of (i.e. and informal discussion), and the former being the subject of the story.

20. Tilkez: The protagonist is a creepy little man who writes down everything and the story is about his relationship with both a female and language (I think. The female might be symbolic.)

21. Urban Planning: Case Study #8: One last flash piece.

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BOOK REVIEW: Rashōmon and Other Stories by Ryūnosuke Akutagawa

Rashomon and Other Stories (Tuttle Classics)Rashomon and Other Stories by Ryūnosuke Akutagawa

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

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Six stories make up this brief collection. All six are intriguing, well-written, and shine a light onto the dark side of mankind. The works of Akutagawa collected herein are all morality tales, but aren’t written in a moralistic tone. In fact, it’s not clear that the author wishes to convey lessons on virtue and vice as he’s intrigued with the instant at which an ordinary person turns bad. That instant, and the inflamed passions that often inspire it, is a prevailing theme throughout most of this small anthology. Akutagawa beats AMC by the better part of a century in showing us how bad breaks.

The first story is entitled In a Grove. This is a murder mystery in which we are given conflicting accounts of a man’s murder through the process of the investigation of the act. The final account that we are offered is that of the victim himself–as presented by a psychic medium. [Only two of these stories contain supernatural elements–this one and the last. Most of the collection involves realist premises. One must remember that Akutagawa was writing in the early part of the 20th century, and scientific rationality hadn’t yet gotten as strong a hold as it does today.] In this case, the use of a psychic is really just a plot device to give the reader insight into a truth which couldn’t otherwise be revealed. Having heard the perspectives of the murder and the dead man’s wife, one is left with questions owing to the self-serving nature of those statements. Of course, the final section reveals a twist–that I won’t spoil.

The second story is the title story, Rashōmon. The title is the name of a gate in Kyōto, the largest gate of Kyōto, in fact. However, Kyōto has fallen on hard times, and our protagonist is a newly masterless samurai who has sought the gate’s shelter from the rain. There, he contemplates whether he should take up a life of crime, which seems to be his only means of survival in the current economy given his skill set. The gate has become a repository for the corpses that are amassing as victims of the hard times accumulate. Within the gate, he finds an old hag who loots bodies for a living. His interaction with the old woman helps him to decide his own destiny.

The third story is called Yam Gruel. While “yam gruel” (or anything with the word gruel in it) might not sound appealing given today’s usage, a fact one must know is that during the time of the story it was a highly-prized and rare dish. The story follows a milquetoast administrator who leads a rather pathetic life in which he has but one ambition, to eat his fill of yam gruel. As a member of the samurai class, he’s invited to an Imperial banquet each year. However, because of his low status and the high-value of yam gruel, he never gets more than a taste. One year he openly bemoans the fact that he never gets his fill. A powerful samurai overhears this complaint, and it puts a seed of mischief in his mind. While this tale isn’t about breaking bad, it is about inflamed passions.

The fourth story sticks out as different from the others. While the bulk of the stories center on that moment at which a more-or-less good person goes bad, The Martyr tells us about a protagonist that never goes bad, despite having every right to. This might seem like a sea change in theme, but in reality it’s just another way of shining a light on the dark seed that resides in people. Only this time it does it by way of contrast. All of the other characters are deeply flawed, and we see that most vividly when contrasted against the one who always behaves virtuously. In this case, that virtuous character is Lorenzo, a novice monk who is accused of a severe breach of good conduct. Lorenzo becomes an outcast and a vagrant due to these allegations. Yet, despite all this, he acts heroically–even to assist those who’ve betrayed him.

In the fifth story we revisit the theme of breaking bad. In Kesa and Morito we are presented with two regret-filled accounts of the instant at which an adulterous couple decides to kill the husband of the woman involved in the affair. Each member of the cheating couple thinks that the other desperately wants the killing to go forward. In reality, both consider it a foolish decision driven by a brief moment of passion. This is another tale about letting one’s passions get out of control.

The final work is a retelling of the story of a monk named Hanazō who decides to prank his fellow monks because they chide him about his huge nose. Hanazō sets up a sign that says a dragon will appear from the local lake at a certain time and day to fly up into the heavens. The joke doesn’t turn out at all as the monk intended. I won’t go into the moral of the story to avoid giving too much away, but suffice it to say there is a moral.

I highly recommend this collection. As I’ve suggested, the collection isn’t just a disparate collection of tales, but has an integrating theme. Akutagawa was truly one of the masters of the short story. He wrote 150 stories before dying at the age of 35 in a suicidal drug overdose.

For those who like to see how literature is portrayed in, below one can watch the film version of Rashōmon.

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MICRO-FICTION: Julia Doesn’t Know How Lucky She Is

IMG_2555“Have you completed your mission? The Council grows impatient,” The thought occurred in Safrom’s mind as if he had a split personality rather than an angry disembodied consciousness in his head.

“No, we were very close to planting it last night, but the cat came in squawking and making racket. It woke her up just before we could get it set. Those damn cats will be the death of me.  The preceding night we managed to keep one out all night, but the other slept on the subject maintaining constant vigilance,”  Safrom said aloud as he paced around the sterile white space of his station.

“The subject travels, why don’t you just do it then?” The thought formed.

“Believe me, I would love to, and we make great efforts to do so. But it is not as easy to track a person through thought-space as it is in the physical world. If we can ever get the damn implant installed, that will, of course, change immediately. Most of the time she is not gone long enough for us to find her, and on the few occasions she has been, or we’ve been lucky, she hasn’t slept deeply.”


“RRRrrrarr-eeeow …  RRRARRrrr-eeeow… RRArrra-eeeow,” the noise came from floor level.

Julia pushed herself upright groggily and swept a shock of black hair out of her face. She stared at the gray cat illuminated by a shaft of streetlamp glow that slanted in through her bedroom window, and said, “Really! You’re really waking me up from a sound sleep in the middle of the night?”

The cat stopped its bellowing and sat back on its haunches, looking at Julia indifferently. Then the shorthair trotted out of the room and down the hall.

Julia lay back down melting into a down pillow and drifted back to sleep while wondering what made her cat do that. What makes a cat that has been fed and is never let out at night, repetitively caterwaul until its owner wakes up, and then it just goes back to its indifferent self?


Julia yawned aloud. “Excuse me. My cat woke me up in the middle of the night three times for no apparent reason.”

“Does it do that a lot?” Erma asked.

“It comes in waves, but, it seems to have it down to a science. It always seems to do it when I’m in the deepest sleep, usually in the middle of a weird dream.” Julia elaborated.

“What was your dream about?” Erma asked.

“Ah, you know, it was a dream. It didn’t make much sense. I was being chased?

“Being chased by whom?”

“I don’t know. I never see them, but it always feels as though they are just about to catch me.”

“Maybe the cat is doing you a favor.”  Erma said in a completely somber tone.

“Yeah, right, maybe.” Julia replied with a grin. She assumed Erma was joking, although there was nothing in the older woman’s expression to indicate that she might be.

Erma changed the subject, “So how is your research coming?”

Julia shrugged and said, “I don’t know. I’m feeling a little overwhelmed as of late. I keep pulling up new material, but, as I do analysis, I don’t seem to be converging on an explanation.”

“It’ll come, you’ve just got to keep at it, and never up. If you never give up, a solution will always present itself.” Erma said with a smile.

“I suppose.”

“You know the thing about cats is…” Erma began.

“What’s that?” Julia inquired.

“Aww, never mind.” Erma said.