Sunday, August 08, 2010

Short-a-Day: Kazushige Abe's "The Maiden in the Manger"

Originally published in A Public Space 01, Spring 2006. Personal enjoyment rating (out of 100): 41.

Something feels lost in translation. Here's the theme, nested in the description for the rare 1989 Tingly Blowfish toy that (ironically) the all-business Thomas Iguchi has gone so far out of his way to acquire:

"The '89 model transcends its age because, and this is really the nub--in actual usage situations, its imperfect, half-baked vibrations, just enough out of joint that one is able to sense a certain crudity in its movements, communicate more authority, and when that feeling is combined with the pressure provided by the attached hand pump . . . the most accomplished virtuoso can't help being led into a flight of ecstasy so intense he can hardly keep his wits about him, into an almost frightening state of rapture."
But the story ends just before that frightening rapture, and the imperfections--the flaws in Iguchi's plan--don't actually enhance the authority or marvel of the story.

Abe is also inconsistent in his tone, and goes from precise facts to odd dialogue, nearing the eccentric occurrences of Haruki Murakami's later novels. I much prefer the masking effect of the former than the novelty of the latter, especially in introductions like these, which are both informative and mysterious. (Why can't he sleep?) "The Yamagata-line bullet rain Tsubasa No. 115 had departed from Tokyo Station at 1:36 in the afternoon. Once Thomas Iguchi had taken his seat, 6D in the first-class Green Car, and consumed the boxed lunch of fried chicken he had bought at a kiosk on Platform 22, he decided, just in case, to take five milligrams of a sedative he often used when he couldn't sleep."

The story shifts, however, once Iguchi reaches his destination. The clerk is interrupted by a shady thug--demanding protection money?--and can't ring Iguchi out, so our hero strikes up conversation with a man named Igarashi and the elderly woman, Ms. Sumiko, that he is escorting about: "He didn't really have the qualifications to be a nurse, he said, and frankly he often found himself regretting that he'd taken on such a demanding job, but on the other hand, nothing could ever compare to the tremendous sense of achievement he enjoyed at the end of each day, and he had never felt even the slightest desire to leave her." And as it turns out, he has a Sinister Bad Guy reveal coming just a few paragraphs later, when Igarashi confesses that "I'm able to acquire something of a totally different nature" (i.e., not money or brownie points) and basically abducts Thomas, revealing that he'd set up the entire antique store and toy sale to lure our hero out. A story really can be ruined by a poor ending, but this one really seems like a translation error; I want to know more.

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