Gunnhild Øyehaug’s Knots, Review

I recommend Gunnhild Øyehaug’s short story collection Knots, out from FSG this summer.

It felt foreordained to open this short story collection by the Norwegian writer Gunnhild Øyehaug and find IKEA on the first page, as in: “…park the car outside IKEA.” IKEA, now based in the Netherlands, originated in Sweden, but to many foreigners, it personifies Scandinavia—pleasant and unthreatening. “Blah, how boring,” was my first thought. Then, trying to stave off disappointment at being welcomed by the all-too-familiar global brand, I told myself, “Well, I guess IKEA did start somewhere nearby. Perhaps, Scandinavians have a particular attachment to clean lines.” (Nervous laughter.) I know that stereotyping is a form of blindness; in practice, my desire for novelty trips me up and leads to overly broad generalizations. Like a tourist, I had to remind myself to check my expectations at the airport.

Gunnhild Øyehaug’s Norway begins, indeed, with the comfortably familiar. . . .

Read the rest of my review on The Common.

Litquake prize!

My short-short story “Companionship” won San Francisco’s Litquake’s short story prize! As a part of the prize, I will read it during an event on Saturday October 14 — more details about this reading to come. This is a very recent story that hasn’t yet been published anywhere. Here’s a teaser opening,

At three years old Michael did decide to return to his mother’s stomach. His mother shifted things around and made room under her heart. She lived a mostly stationary lifestyle, and so accommodating Michael was no problem. In fact, she appreciated the companionship…

Strange Weather in Tokyo

From Hiromi Kawakami’s Strange Weather in Tokyo, translated from the Japanese by Allison Markin Powell,

He was my Japanese teacher at secondary school. He wasn’t my form teacher, and Japanese didn’t interest me much, so I didn’t really remember him. Since I finished school, I hadn’t seen him for quite a while.

Several years ago, we sat beside each other at a crowded bar near the train station, and after that, our paths would cross every now and then. that night, he was sitting at the counter, his back so straight it was almost concave.

Taking my seat at the counter, I ordered “Tuna with fermented soybeans, fried lotus root, and salted shallots,” while the old man next to me requested “Salted shallots, lotus root fries, and tuna with fermented soybeans” almost simultaneously. when I glanced over, I saw he was staring straight back at me.

This delightful book can be found through the publisher’s website.

On the infinite wisdom of Ursula Le Guin

I’m rereading A Wizard of Earthsea. It’s marvelously wise, and to think that it was one of the earliest of Le Guin’s published novels! I’ve read interviews with Le Guin, where she credits her discovery of feminism with uplifting her career. “A Wizard of Earthsea” predates her feminist work, but there are fun ways of reading it as a proto-feminist narrative, I believe.

Here’s a passage that comes at the end of Ged’s schooling; he’s graduated and became a full-staffed wizard. Now he needs to leave the school, and for that he needs to guess the name of The Master Doorkeeper.

Ged knew a thousand ways and crafts and means for finding out names of things and of men, of course; such craft was a part of everything he had learned at school, for without it there could be little useful magic done. But to find out the name of a Mage and Master was another matter. A mage’s name is better hidden than a herring in the sea, better guarded than a dragon’s den. A prying charm will be met with a stronger charm, subtle devices will fail, devious inquiries will be deviously thwarted, and force will be turned ruinously back upon itself. . . . .

 

After the sun was up Ged went, still fasting, to the door of the House and knocked. The Doorkeeper opened.

“Master,” said Ged, “I cannot take your name from you, not being strong enough, and I cannot trick your name from you, not being wise enough. So I am content to stay here, and learn or serve, whatever you will: unless by chance you will answer a question I have.”

“Ask it.”

“What is your name?”

Buy and read the rest of the book.