The stories, ranging from rather mundane tales of picking relatives up at the airport to those featuring cat demons and kappa, are interesting and weird in a good way. While existing only in the "real" world, the stories take elements of the fantastic, from children born with tails to obese women floating. Probably the biggest obstacle for me getting into the stories, though, was my own lack of experience with either Canadian culture or Japanese culture, both of which are rather central to the story. That said, I feel like I understand both cultures a little better now, which is always a good thing when looking at how successful a collection is. My favorite stories probably were the ones that tended more into the speculative areas. So this was a quite enjoyable collection, certainly dark, but funny at times, emotionally wrenching at others.
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Amazon Monster. For many, the word summons memories of childhood fears: the creature panting under the bed, the bogeyman lurking behind the closet door. Others may recall the B-movie staples, the mummy in the swamp and the giant reptile stamping high-rises. Our more contemporary monsters are the reviled subjects of newspaper headlines: war criminals, serial killers, pedophiles.
Deviations from expected behaviour or form, Goto suggests, are dismissed by the collective as monstrosities. Postpartum, women constantly feel they have failed in motherhood: in "From Across a River," the protagonist is immobilized by the knowledge that she ran over her own child.
Another woman faces the hostile reactions of her family when she decides to give up breastfeeding. In numerous stories, women who are unable to regain their earlier body weights are made by their relatives to feel as though they are anomalies. Most successful in articulating this pain of failure that can grip mothers is the title story, which relays the repugnance felt by a woman whose newborn has an unusual appendage: "Right where the crack of her buttocks began was a tail.
What moisture left in her mouth withered: a bitter dust on her tongue. Her heart boomed inside her ears. Culture, too, is a factor used by the author to segregate characters in her stories, which aptly capture the tension between generations of Japanese-Canadians. Interracial marriage, for example, is often frowned upon here by the parents of each spouse. The author makes interesting and playful use of parallelism to get across her serious messages concerning the treatment of deviants.
Goto thereby encourages readers to view their commonplace assumptions in a new light. These fantastic unsettling forms -- along with the tailed infant, cat-headed children and levitating girl -- mirror those forms that may unsettle people in everyday life: an obese woman, a scar, a lesbian, slanted eyes. Goto embraces the qualities that make one different, without resorting to over-sentimentalization or preaching, and posits that problems arise when others fail to acknowledge the legitimacy of difference.
In the telling scene of "Stinky Girl," the protagonist learns that her overpowering stench is only mistranslated music: "The sounds that emanate from my skin are so intense that mortal senses recoil, deflect beauty into ugliness as a way of coping. Like hopeful monsters, her characters have adapted to but one more change in their environments; her monsters are only enduring.
Hopeful Monsters is an invitation for us to reassess the "others" that we are so quick to sidestep in our daily lives -- not simply the popularly denounced monsters, such as the sex offender, but also the smaller monsters, like the tyrannical boss, or the hostile neighbour.
Hopeful Monsters by Hiromi Goto
Multimedia Hopeful Monsters The unbearable voices of mythic manatees, the cry of the phoenix, the whispers of kappa lovers beside a gurgling stream. The voice of the moon that is ever turned away from our gaze, the song of suns colliding. The sounds which permeate from my skin on such a level of intensity that mortal senses recoil, deflect beauty into ugliness as a way of coping. And my joy. Such incredible joy. I hover, twenty feet in the air.
In these devastating stories, the hopeful monsters in question are those who will not be tethered by familial duty nor bound by the ghosts of their past. Home becomes fraught, reality a nightmare as Hiromi Goto weaves her characters through tales of domestic crises and cultural dissonance. They are the walking wounded--a mother who is terrified by a newborn daughter who bears a tail; a "stinky girl" who studies the human condition in a shopping mall; a family on holiday wih a visiting grandfather who cannot abide their "foreign" nature. With humor and keen insight, Goto makes the familiar seem strange, and deciphers those moments when the idyllic skews into the absurd and the sublime. From "Stinky Girl" The unbearable voices of mythic manatees, the cry of the phoenix, the whispers of kappa lovers beside a gurgling stream. The voice of the moon that is ever turned away from our gaze, the song of suns colliding.