Can you really spoil a short story collection, though?
Most of my favorite short story collections are humorous or surreal, and often both. I like my fiction to be specific, absurd, and personal. Silliness is a positive thing.
I enjoyed The Lonesome Bodybuilder by Yukiko Motoya for how relatable the narrators were in their thoughts and anxieties about their lives. Below are my review and interpretations of the stories in this collection in the order of how much I liked each story.
How did you interpret the stories? Leave your comments below.
The Lonesome Bodybuilder
Living with my perfectionist husband had made me think that I was a person with no redeeming qualities. It hadn’t been like that before we were married, but gradually, as I constantly tried to compensate for his lack of confidence by listing all my own faults, I’d acquired the habit of dismissing myself.
A woman with an insecure husband pursues an interest all her own in the form of bodybuilding. Her body gets bigger and the change is more noticeable to everyone around her except her husband.
There’s one point where she thinks that her muscles are just for show, and later realizes that it was simply another belief that she’d bought into at some point and then never challenged.
When her husband finally comes to her training gym, she shows him her true self and all her faces. He finally sees the real her. People around her also start taking her feelings into consideration.
I related to her relationship with her husband, her desire to show her true self, and the unfounded beliefs she sometimes internalized about herself. This was my favorite story in the collection.
An Exotic Marriage
Another favorite story in the collection, the excerpt published on LitHub only being the first half of this novella. A woman realizes she is starting to look like her husband. She then alternates between fighting the change and giving into it. At times, I think she is disgusted by her husband when he’ll do some to win her over. Even when it got long, I wanted to know how it would end.
I interpreted the final scene as her being free of her husband, but knowing that regardless of who she had been, anyone would have turned into a replica of her husband without a rock in between them.
What’s your metaphorical rock which absorbs your partner’s traits so that you can remain an independent person?
More silliness. An advice columnist gives more and more ridiculous advice. Why, I can imagine a world where my gaping loneliness can be solved by taking a cycle saddle as my next partner, looking into the rather human-like face of the bicycle saddle for companionship and having it “gently and lovingly support [my] ass.”
“[A] man is forced to kill his own fantasies after they come to life.” – The Atlantic
This story I found so fun and an extreme extension of women in a world where they transform into literal male fantasies, complete with stilettos bursting out of the soles of their shoes and lips producing their own lipstick. A woman challenges her boyfriend, the narrator, to a duel. I’ve read that it’s a comment on the fantasy of having an assertive girlfriend, though I feel like the western male fantasy would be for someone passive. But I suppose that wouldn’t have led to the conflict of this short story. Either way, a clever take.
This was originally published in Grant as Why I Can No Longer Look at a Picnic Blanket Without Laughing, and the original title is the punchline of the piece. It’s about a woman working at a clothing shop who has a customer where no clothes she tries on are satisfactory. However, the customer won’t come out of the fitting room or let the narrator see her. Thus, the narrator has no way to find clothes that might work for the customer.
The store helper thinks to transport the customer in the mobile fitting room to another store over the hill, but she accidentally lets go and the fitting room rolls down a hill. At last, the narrator catches a look at the customer who she describes as having a “runny” body.
Picture a picnic blanket laid on a meadow-—I bet that would look pretty good on her, like a floral print dress.
I think this is just a funny and silly story about a customer who doesn’t have a body that clothes can fit on, who is still trying to find clothes. It’s as if Yukiko Motoya looked at a picnic blanket one day and said, what if that where the most appropriate outfit for a blob creature with arms, started laughing and wrote a story about how a shopkeeper might come to that conclusion.
I Call You By Name
You get all our hopes up. We think, This time, this time, I’ll find someone for sure. But because you’re never there, we have to learn to be pragmatic, explain things away rationally.
A woman is thoroughly distracted by a bulge in the curtains which she imagines could be an ex-lover or some comforting presence which she may have encountered as a child. She feels deeply abandoned when the bulge leaves.
I read it as a story of someone who keeps imagining that the thing which abandoned her will still seek her out some day. She misses the days when she could be completely irrational, always trusting that the bulge was a person who would never leave her. Instead, she’s now become a rational, boring person who knows that the bulge is likely not there, and explains it away with as a trick of the light.
However, she’s not interested in being rational and boring. She still holds hope that the mysterious bulge entity will still seek her out. When she sees the bulge in the conference room, she goes back to her irrational self. The one which believes!
I like to think it’s a metaphor for the insanity which is love, and believing that there is some soul mate out there for you if you only have faith in the signs. However, even with that interpretation, I did feel bad for the narrator. It made me think, perhaps it is better to give up hope if it avoids constant disappointment?
The Straw Husband
A woman with a husband made of literal straw finds her honeymoon period over when her husband gets upset at her over small grievances. He lets out all his complaints. As he does so, musical instruments start falling out of his body until he’s nothing but a deflated pile of straw. The wife, Tomoko, puts the instruments back into his body, the husband apologizes to her, and they go out for a lovely day.
I interpreted this to be the catharsis when your partner picks a fight with you and lets out all the little resentments they’ve been holding in. By the end of it, you might look at your partner with disgust and you may not plan to change because those annoyances are just part of who you are. But you acknowledge you heard the complaints (which is what I interpreted as Tomoko putting all those instruments back into her husband’s body). Everything goes back to that way it was, with both partners back to status quo.
Slice of bizarre life.
I slowly became dingy and faded, by the dogs stayed as white as fresh snow.
Originally published under the same title in Granta. A woman isolates herself in a cabin. In place of people, she finds herself surrounded by soft dogs, who may also be terrorizing the population living in that town. The woman’s dream of being alone in the world comes true (suggestions that the dogs scare off the townspeople). However, she realizes that even though she got her dream, she wants to leave this town.
My interpretation: everyone needs human contact or they’ll become “dingy and faded.” People are what give color and texture to our world.
How to Burden the Girl
Originally published under the same title in Tender Journal, this is a story from the perspective of a peeping neighbor who want to save a woman who seems like she’s being pursued by an evil gang, only to find she may actually be awful herself. I understood that this was probably something about appearances being deceiving but I didn’t quite connect with this story.
Originally published in Catapult as The Reason I Carry Biscuits to Offer to Young Boys, it’s a story of a cynical woman watching business men attempting to keep their umbrellas open during a typhoon. What she thinks is foolishness is really their attempt to use their umbrellas to be carried by the wind in flight. An old man who offers her cookies (“better than any cookie I’d had in all my eleven years”) gets her to realize that these men are not so foolish, and it’s not until she .
I feel like there’s some message about not being so cynical and giving strange men a chance, but I’m ok if I miss out such an incredible sight (metaphorically).
A young stall boy in a grocer’s market attempts to find out the motivations of a group of people who keep wreaking havoc on the market stalls. Seems like the group were re-enacting a classic chase scene straight out of a movie. The young boy never finds out why the group of people keep coming back to destroy his stall, but he accepts it as part of his life, even acting in respect that they never seem to stop running.
My interpretation of the concept: what if all those chase scenes in action movies took place in real life, and all at the same generic market place. What would someone who actually works in that market feel about the chase scene?
Cute concept, but didn’t connect for me.
Overall, The strangeness of the stories also kept me reading to find out what what happened next! I’ll be looking for more fiction in a similar vein.