Three Scenarios in Which Hana Sasaki Grows a Tail: Stories
by Kelly Luce
A Strange Object, 2013
152 pages / $14.95 buy from A Strange Object
1. Three Scenarios in Which Hana Sasaki Grows a Tail is the debut story collection by Kelly Luce.
3. The only thing is that Kelly Luce grew up in Brookfield, Illinois.
4. How strict is the “write what you know” edict? On Big Think, Nathan Englander reminds us that this advice is too often misconstrued. It really means we should write from a place of emotional familiarity, not that we’re limited to autobiographical writing.
5. But are there limitations when we talk about writers depicting foreign cultures? This story collection seems very Japanese (if a book can even be “very Japanese”) and yet, it’s distinctly American, too.
6. When I was nine I was flipping through channels and caught the end of Akira on basic cable. I had no clue what was going on, but in the weeks, months, and years to follow I found that it left an indelible mark on me—a predilection towards the uncomfortably strange.
7. A Strange Object is the name of the independent press that published Three Scenarios in Which Hana Sasaki Grows a Tail. They’re based out of Austin, TX. This is their first book, too.
8. This is strictly conjecture, but Japanese culture affords for a strangeness that is uniquely its own. Look at all of the Japanese fiction out there: Akutagawa and Mishima, Ryu Murakami and Haruki Murakami, and the scores of manga and J-horror.
9. The characters in Kelly Luce’s collection are outsiders. Many are Americans who move to Japan for work or to connect with the culture that they find so entrancing. Some are only half Asian, an anomaly to the native Japanese—not gaijin, but not Japanese, either. Others are fully Japanese, but do not fit in as with the Japanese school girls who seek refuge from the tedium of their lives through a unique karaoke machine and with the Japanese widower who invented a machine that measures a person’s capacity for love. All are lost. All are searching to fit in.
10. In ninth grade, I ordered a t-shirt with the kanji for gaijin on it. I wore that shirt proudly even though no one at my school in West Tennessee understood what it meant. Looking back, I think I was so drawn to Japanese comic books and cartoons because it was a way to embrace my otherness as a nerdy, awkward white boy.
11. Maybe my white male privilege affords me the opportunity to worry about things like white privilege and post-colonialism.
12. I want to argue that Kelly Luce is writing about people and the Japanese names and locales are just a way to establish place. And who doesn’t like a story that has a strong sense of place? It shouldn’t matter what ethnicity or nationality a character is. Emotions ought to be the same regardless of nationality, right?
13. Luce’s collection really hits its stride in the stories wherein she strikes upon these familiar pangs of human nature with equally familiar characters—a sister’s tailspin after her brother’s death, an American woman reeling from her time in jail, bored and unfulfilled housewives.
14. However, some of the strange elements (a toaster that scorches how one will die on the bread, a girl finding her beating heart in a room filled with all of her lost possessions) seem contrived as if Luce felt like she had to jam a quirky element into every story.
15. But this is a sin quickly absolved when the pathos of Luce’s work overshadows these technical quibbles.
16. And yet, I’m still left wondering if it’s ok for her as an American women—even one who has lived in Japan—to write from the perspective of Japanese characters.
17. If the portrayal of Japanese characters were caricatures, it would be a lot easier to answer the whole “can authors write about other cultures” question. But Kelly Luce’s portrayals of Japanese life seem so sincere. She’s focusing on individual people and not using broad strokes based on cultural assumptions.
18. I feel guilty—as if my definition of acceptable and PC creative output is too constrictive. I want to believe that anyone should be able to write about anything, but I’m still left feeling squirrely about this whole situation.
19. In my undergrad creative writing classes, the strangest writing came from the anime nerds. Poems about fish being used as axes, short stories with whale rape, all with a surreal imagery incomparable to anyone else in the program.
20. As an art object, Three Scenarios is stunning. I’m a big nerd for nicely assembled books. I mean, it has red, embossed endpapers!
21. Yuko Shimuza’s cover illustration is absolutely gorgeous. In fact, I think a Shimuza cover guarantees that I will read the book, whatever it is. They’re just that exquisite.
22. I wonder if artists (and I’m using the term as a catch-all for any creative type) with an inclination for the strange are drawn to Japanese culture because it mirrors their own aesthetic or if their aesthetic is forged by this strange culture.
23. For me, the literature of the strange was an escape. An escape from a home life filled with rage, a refuge from a school with few friends. It was a way to disappear, a way to come to terms with my adolescent body, mutating like that snippet from Akira seen so many years before.
24. Three Scenarios in Which Hana Sasaki Grows a Tail is not an escape. It is a confrontation. It takes the feelings of disconnect that we all feel from time to time and it normalizes them. The characters populating this collection think nothing odd of a girl with a fine-haired tail, a volcano blanketing their town in a thick layer of ash, of a fortune-telling toaster. By normalizing the odd, Kelly Luce is giving us permission to exist—to be who we really are, to embrace out true, malformed selves.
25. It’s a good book. You should read it.