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.
Motoya, in Asa Yoneda’s subtle and unobtrusive translation, never uses the word 'yearning', but this story, like so many others, is saturated with a sense of longing. Her characters seem to be searching for the strangest, and most estranged, parts of themselves. While not explicitly feminist, her female protagonists share a capacity for small rebellions, sudden twitches against life-long habits of conformity ... Motoya’s signature, a gift she shares with other contemporary writers such as Carmen Maria Machado or International Man Booker-winner Han Kang, is the striking image — a girl who cries tears of blood, a woman glued to a man in a suit. As a result these arresting, hyper-real stories linger in the imagination and tend to engage your curiosity rather than your empathy ... By the first few sentences of The Lonesome Bodybuilder, you know you’re hearing the voice of a remarkable writer; by the end of 'An Exotic Marriage', you’re certain that Yukiko Motoya’s shivery, murmuring voice will never completely leave you.