tell me a story

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My favorite thing to read is a collection of short stories. I love cuddling with one any day, but more so when I’m traveling. It’s the perfect kind of book to take with me on a trip: Flip a few pages while waiting to board; a few more on the plane after perusing the in-flight magazine; savor the last few pages of a story while beach bumming.

This year, I think I’ve already gone through at least four collections. The most recent one is Granta issue 127, a special issue on Japan and by Japanese writers. I must admit I’ve never heard of Granta, “The Magazine of New Writing,” until a couple of weeks ago while helping a colleague man our booth at an anime convention (which coincides with the Book Fair…we’re there mainly to promote membership to our library).

I immediately burrowed my nose into the first story, Sayaka Murata’s “A Clean Marriage,” and got hooked. It would turn out to be the most remarkable story in that collection, at least for me.

It tells of a fictional story about Mizuki and Nobuhiro who are mutually blissful in a “completely sexless and sex-free marriage.” They had met through a match-making site and knew from the get go that they are both “abnormal” beings who wanted sex out of the marriage equation but not completely out of their lives. [“We were free to enjoy sex elsewhere. We were like an adolescent brother and sister, having secret sex partners while behaving like we didn’t understand the meaning of the word.”]

Mizuki was 33 when the platonic couple broached the idea of a technology-aided fertilization. Because aside from consenting to a celibate marriage setup, they have been mutually wanting a child of their own, so they gave Clean Breeder a chance, and it was the most awkward procedure. Ha ha.

I liked the writer’s insightful yet nondramatic take on the delicate, interrelated issues of love-sex-marriage-commitment-babies. Plus, the dry humor injected here and there was a treat.

The more unconcerned I sounded, the angrier she became.

Mystery Woman: “You don’t have sex together, right? What kind of a woman are you? I always satisfy him, and we love each other.”

Mizuki: “Of course you do–you’re his lover, after all. We’re family, so we don’t have sex. Look, my lunch break is over, I can’t talk.”

Mystery Woman: “It’s because you can’t give him the type of sex he wants…”

Mizuki: “That’s right. That’s why we’re family.”

There were two or three other stories in that collection that stood out. Now I’m finishing a book on Japanese tattoos (halted in favor of Granta), and after that I may move on to another Mishima or another short story collection–Life is predictable like that. I go through cycles of novel-nonfiction-short stories. But hey, having a pattern ain’t bad.

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