In Yukiko Motoya’s delightful new story collection, the familiar becomes unfamiliar ... At face value, the stories are fun and funny to read, but weightier questions lurk below the surface ... The writing itself is to be admired ... Certainly the style will remind readers of the Japanese authors Banana Yoshimoto and Sayaka Murata, but the stories themselves — and the logic, or lack thereof, within their sentences — are reminiscent, at least to this reader, of Joy Williams and Rivka Galchen and George Saunders.
The stories are funny and creepy; they have a campfire vibe, a brush of the moonless night. ... characters correctly identify weird behavior as weird, but they mistake out-of-bounds, supernatural weird for human, 'life’s a rich tapestry' weird. This normalization gives the stories their irony and their sense of being just a bit off, like a lingering scent of formaldehyde. The reader wonders: Am I the strange one? ... The tales boil down to the problem of balancing empathy with self-assertion—of both practicing kindness and expressing your own needs, and all while the people around you are behaving like wraiths or aliens. Motoya’s protagonists feel quietly radical in a literary moment that seems particularly interested in unpacking various forms of narcissism. They treat the importance of others’ inner lives as a given ... But too much open-mindedness and empathy can become a kind of permeability, and that gets these characters into trouble ... There is acid in Motoya’s surrealism: these women will put up with anything! A draft blows through the tales—loneliness, the most spectral emotion ... At first, The Lonesome Bodybuilder appears most interested in chills and moods; I needed time for its feminism and its political threads to catch the light.
... a refreshing reminder that fiction is an elastic medium, capable of stretching into new and surprising shapes. Motoya is restless among the halls of convention; she appreciates the classic elements of short stories, but is eager to deface them with a brightly colored Sharpie ... The collection is more hits than misses, but a few stories, like 'Paprika Jiro' and 'Typhoon,' skew too quirky and become trivial, though they’re buoyant with fancy ... The other stories are trim and propulsive, itching to move forward, using their surreal elements to interrogate assumptions about intimacy and the complacency of partnership. Even the missteps attest to Motoya’s fictive mandate: to be unburdened by rules and restraints ... Although the stories are often funny, they’re not sarcastic or ironic, and Motoya’s not really kidding ... grant sobering insights into the compromises of love and marriage, the fraught pursuit of art and desire, and the dangers of becoming stuck in the wrong version of your life. Like the work of Aimee Bender and Robert Walser, many of these stories, however whimsical on the surface, possess a sense of dread at their core. But Motoya belongs more to modern oddness than to a fabulist tradition ... Motoya’s collection is a bold broadcast: fiction should be wild and daring, and less beholden to the rigors of logic than to the power and potency of surprise.