Mar. 5th, 2017

marlowe1: (high school reunion)
25. Lafcadio Hearn's The Faceless Ghost and Other Macabre Tales from Japan by Sean Michael Wilson & Michiru Morikawa - Shirley Jackson has an essay about writing where she is teaching a writing class and one of the students has a story about a group of women who wanted to buy a shawl at a church auction only to be undercut by an outsider who went and bought it out from under them. Jackson keeps trying to tell the student that this is an anecdote not a story, but the student insists that it happened that way. This is a frustrating experience in creative writing classes. Jackson goes on to talk about the ways to make this story interesting. Give a character a strong perspective. Find some nuance in the arguments. Jackson's idea is that the outsider could be a woman who thinks that buying the shawl will make her popular among her neighbors because she really wants to fit in. Or the perspective can be the minister who thought this event would bring everyone together. Or maybe there could be someone in a tree. Either way, giving someone a perspective would make this story much more interesting than the very flat anecdote that the student doesn't want to move away from.

These stories remind me of that example when the stories are more anecdotes than actual stories with perspectives and ambiguity. They are clever tales that you convey to someone over donuts. There's the guy who outwitted the ghost by challenging the soon-to-be-dead criminal to bite a brick after he's dead. So the guy bites the brick and that's pretty much it for his vengeance. Then there's the man who meets the scary ghost and promises not to talk about her. Then he tells his wife about her and she's THE GHOST!!!! Booo!!!! There are some creepy ones like the musician who is hired by mysterious people to play for them and when he finally tells his sensei about them, they turn out to be ghosts and he is covered in Japanese letters to protect him - except for the ears which get ripped off. These stories can be unsettling, but there's not a lot of character to them. The one exception is The Gratitude of the Samebito which posits an unmarried man who befriends an exiled spirit. The friendship is so great that the samebito cries diamond tears when the man might die of heartbreak. Then there's a great deal of back-and-forth as the samebito doesn't want to get used for his tears and the man is totally using him but also still cares. That's the only one that I truly liked because it says a lot more than magic demon cries diamonds.

These are fun anecdotes and they could be made into stories but as they were written, they were more like translations of translations where most of the cultural baggage is missing and therefore everything is kind of getting lost in translation.

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Tim Lieder

July 2017

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