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The scream and the smile

“My guy”, the first of the short stories in Izumi Suzuki’s collection “Hit parade of tears”, is a love story about a young woman and an extra-terrestrial.


Sean Sheehan


This could be too kooky for its own good but the tale is as convincing as it is affective. Not that the reader has to take it seriously on an empirical level –though why not?– given its potency as a metaphor for how affection can develop in strange and beautiful ways.

What Schonberg meant by saying the painter paints a picture rather than what it represents is a way of understanding how Suzuki’s daring lies in the form of her writing, her ability to imbue storytelling with what cannot be stated but only enacted in the telling. The emotive experience of a deep and abiding love that “My guy” gives expression to arises from the story’s departure from realist narrative.

In the second tale, “Trial witch”, a wife uses magical powers bestowed on her by a messenger from three elderly witches to Circe-like transform her womanizing spouse into animal forms. It is a mischievous story about vengeance with attitude.

Very different is ‘Hey, It’s Love psychedelic’ –a fictional account of ontological incompleteness worthy of Žižek– where a character finds her timeline disrupted and reality realigned as she is hurled back and forth through temporal orders of being.

Suzuki’s opposition to the condition of what passes for normal life pulses through her writing. Seventeen-year-old Akiko in ‘The Covenant’ feels so disconnected from her mother and the world in general that she thinks she may come from some other planet.

As with “My guy”, meaning is not conveyed in the surface narrative; events become a structural representation of dislocation, fracture and the absence of any redemptive truths.

In the deeply disturbing “The walker”, only five pages in length, estrangement takes on a psychotic dimension that mixes the nightmarish with the quotidian.

The woman in “Memory of water”, perhaps the best story in this set, is alienated from herself and the rest of the world and she struggles to even order a coffee in a café. Contemplating eternity as she observes two girls putting on make-up, this is Munch’s “The scream” in words. But the character’s other self, called ‘After-She’, holds fast to a frame of understanding that functions as a coping mechanism. The two parts of her become a narrative rendition of the struggle within everyone — the scream and the smile – and the challenge of dealing with what is left of reality when deprived of its support structures and ready-made frames of reference.

Izumi Suzuki (1949-1986) blends fantasy and science fiction to disconcerting effect and her eleven tales in this collection are sardonic, dystopian commentaries on the struggle to stay sane in a world that often fails to offer encouragement to do so.

“Hit parade of tears”, by Izumi Suzuki, is published by Verso Books.

(Photos: Pixabay)

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