toko-yawada

No, I’m not talking about the Police song.

Last week, I worked at NYCC for a couple of days. My reading ended up being short and extra-portable. On Friday, as I was leaving my apartment, I grabbed two books from the to-read shelf. The first, Stacey D’Erasmo’s The Art of Intimacy: The Space Between, was one I wanted to have in my head for a story I was (and am) working on. I’d enjoyed her novel Wonderland considerably, and I was curious about what lessons I could learn from this work of hers. The other was Yoko Tawada’s collection Where Europe Begins. I’d picked that one up from Spotty Dog Books’s table at Basilica Soundscape, knowing nothing about it save that the description on the back cover sounded evocative.

Two-thirds of the way through D’Erasmo’s book, she cited a story in Tawada’s to prove a point that she was making. That wasn’t eerie in the slightest, no.

D’Erasmo’s book, part of Graywolf’s series of very specific works on craft, was one of the highlights of said series for me. Her definition of “intimacy” covers a lot of ground, as do the works from which she chooses her examples: Joseph Conrad, Percival Everett, and Virginia Woolf are all cited, to excellent effect. Throughout, she maintains a fantastic sense of space, both invoking how the characters she describes relate to one another and keeping in mind the reader’s (intimate) relationship with words on paper, and the way that words sit (intimately) on the page. Highly recommended for anyone with an interest in the craft described here, or seeking a pocket literary history of the last hundred years.

In the stories collected in Where Europe Begins, Yoko Tawada establishes a memorably dreamlike atmosphere–and, as dreams can be, that atmosphere ranges from thrillingly surreal to nightmarish, with narratives that unfold out of some hidden logic. “The Bath,” the story that opens the collection (which was also the story featured by D’Erasmo in her book) progresses through a series of disquieting events. Some of these seem rooted in questions of identity and the bounds of a relationship; others trickle into the realm of body horror and suggest fates out of a fairy tale (or a ghost story). It sets the tone for what’s to come: a series of unpredictable events in which no relationship can be assumed to play out along expected lines.

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