You have reached your limit of free articles this month.

Enjoy unlimited access to myStatesman.com

Starting at just 99¢ for 8 weeks.

GREAT REASONS TO SUBSCRIBE TODAY!

  • IN-DEPTH REPORTING
  • INTERACTIVE STORYTELLING
  • NEW TOPICS & COVERAGE
  • ePAPER
X

You have read of premium articles.

Get unlimited access to all of our breaking news, in-depth coverage and bonus content- exclusively for subscribers. Starting at just 99¢ for 8 weeks

X

Welcome to myStatesman.com

This subscriber-only site gives you exclusive access to breaking news, in-depth coverage, exclusive interactives and bonus content.

You can read free articles of your choice a month that are only available on myStatesman.com.

‘Three Scenarios in Which Hana Sasaki Grows a Tail:’ Michener fellow Kelly Luce gets good and weird


In Kelly Luce’s debut short story collection, “Three Scenarios in Which Hana Sasaki Grows a Tail,” a toaster lets you know when you are going to die, a young woman struggles with the death of a sibling and things get quietly, Twilight Zoney odd.

And then there’s the title story, wherein a young woman grows a tail. Or is it three different women who grow them, all named Hana Sasaki?

Somewhere along the line, between the time of J.D. Salinger, John Updike and Raymond Carver, and, say, the Nintendo 64 era, North American literary fiction woke up to the imaginative power of Gabriel Garcia Marquez-style magical realism: Think Jonathan Lethem, George Saunders or Aimee Bender.

So it is hard for the genre fan to read the excellent “Three Scenarios” and know even the most fantastical stories will be regarded as smart, forward-thinking literature (which they are) and not recall Arthur Krystal’s now-infamous Oct. 24, 2012 essay in the New Yorker in which the veteran critic doubles-down on his contention that literature is to high culture as genre fiction is to low ideology, with eye-rolling comments such as: “Writers who want to understand why the heart has reasons that reason cannot know are not going to write horror tales or police procedurals.”

A few of these stories could have worked in the legendary genre magazine “Fantasy and Science-Fiction” as well as they do in, say, the “Tampa Review” or “Storyville.”

That is not a shot at Luce, who does terrific work here, or her publisher. Luce’s book is the first offering from A Strange Object, the Austin-based publishing house started by former American Short Fiction editors Jill Meyers and Callie Collins, and it is a strong, smart debut.

A Michener Center fellow, the 33-year-old Luce seems on the cusp of the proverbial next level. Her work has appeared in the the Southern Review, Chicago Tribune, and the Kenyon Review. She’s picked up fellowships from, among others, the MacDowell Colony, Ragdale Foundation and Jentel Arts.

She attended the Sozopol Fiction Seminar in Bulgaria and did time in Japan (literally, actually — she spent about a week in a Japanese jail on a trumped-up shoplifting charge), which explains why all but one of the stories in her debut collection are set in Japan, several of them with Japanese characters. Hers is a cosmopolitan viewpoint.

As much or more than anything else, Luce’s stories are about transformation, about the moments when a perception changes or when something simply becomes something else (including the stories that have no fantastical elements).

Of course, that is often the point of a short story: a cluster of images and plot and ideas around a moment of revelation. But in “Three Scenarios,” it becomes a de facto theme.

And there are also stories that have nothing to do with the other-worldly, such as the lovely closer “Amorometer,” a case of mistaken identity that a woman plays out as long as seems civilized (and probably a little bit beyond).

In “Pioneers,” a Japanese woman struggles to make her marriage to her Western husband work. The first line is beautifully economical: “Yukimo jiggled the handle and thought, break, broke, broken.” Luce maintains the savvy tone throughout.

But Luce’s work truly pops when things get weird: In the sharp opener “Ms. Yamada’s Toaster,” a very religious woman owns a toaster with a strange habit: “when you put in a piece of bread, it came out with a kanji character toasted on it. That character indicated how you’d die.” (Does this count as a bug or a feature?)

To his credit, Old Kumo, one of the toaster’s … subjects? victims? handles the news well:

“‘What was your word, sir?’ ” a delivery boy asks.

“Sleep. Isn’t that a hoot? Now I can finally live in peace.’” It’s a thoughtful piece with a quieter ending than one expects.

(And as Luce recently noted in a brief interview with “Poets & Writers” magazine, the story sprang from an idea box in which she dumps random thoughts to use when she is stuck. “I pull out a few scraps and force them into a story. ‘Ms. Yamada’s Toaster’ came from: ‘appliance with a superpower,’ ‘Jehovah’s Witnesses’ and ‘so much beer.’” Kelly, keep this process up!)

The titular piece is one of the shortest; its title tells you exactly what is going on. At three points in her life, or at one point in the lives of various Hana Sasakis, she grows a tail.

The scenarios read like almost like demos for longer works, but Luce smartly circles back to the idea of multivalent perception: “Sometimes, she gets the sensation that time has frozen for her only, a glitch in relativity, as if she’s observing herself from a great distance.”

In “Rooey,” Luce waves her arms frantically to let you know where the story is headed: “Here’s a story: two people are in trouble and the wrong one dies. There’s been a cosmic mix-up, but there’s nothing anyone can do about it, and they all live sadly ever after. The end.” And it is to her credit the end is still a surprise.

Indeed, it is to Luce’s (and A Strange Object’s) credit that “Three Scenarios” is the best kind of surprise: a good collection from a new voice that is just getting going.



Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Insight and Books

Commentary: How colleges lost control by promoting activism over study
Commentary: How colleges lost control by promoting activism over study

This year will go down as the year of the Great Academic Meltdown. Campus after campus — from Yale to Middlebury — violence has shut down the free exchange of ideas and the very possibility of rational discussion and debate. How is this possible — and what can be done about it? In just 50 years, how did we go from institutions of...
Jack Hunter: Trump Derangement Syndrome vs. Obama Derangement Syndrome
Jack Hunter: Trump Derangement Syndrome vs. Obama Derangement Syndrome

Media Matters’ Eric Boehlert wrote in 2016, “It’s classic Obama Derangement Syndrome: the inability of adults to rationally deal with the actions of the Democratic president.” He was describing conservatives’ sometimes irrational hatred of all things Obama. And he had a good point: From 2008 through 2016, conservatives...
Letters to the editor: June 27, 2017
Letters to the editor: June 27, 2017

Re: June 20 article, “High court to weigh partisan gerrymandering.” I’m pleased that the Supreme Court has agreed to consider the legality of political gerrymandering. Gerrymandering is the biggest thing that contributes to the hyperpartisanship that we are currently experiencing. It encourages conflict rather than compromise &mdash...
Kathleen Parker: President Jujitsu and the art of the bluff
Kathleen Parker: President Jujitsu and the art of the bluff

WASHINGTON — Five months into Donald Trump’s administration, only the unwise doubt the president’s intelligence. Just ask former FBI Director James Comey, who, in addition to being fired by Trump, has been redefined by the president as a dishonest leaker who might have lied were it not for nonexistent tapes of their conversations...
Maureen Dowd: Donald skunks the Democrats
Maureen Dowd: Donald skunks the Democrats

WASHINGTON — You know who is really sick and tired of Donald Trump winning, to the point where they beg, “Please, Mr. President, sir, it’s too much”? Democrats. The Democrats just got skunked four to nothing in races they excitedly thought they could win because everyone they hang with hates Trump. If Trump is the Antichrist...
More Stories