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Buzzed Books #87 by Drew Barth

Yukiko Motoya’s The Lonesome Bodybuilder

At times, there’s only so much a person can say about a collection of stories that moves them or a collection that so meshes with their own sense of what makes a strong story that it’s hard to not just post one of the stories on here in lieu of a review to show just how good the collection is. The Lonesome Bodybuilder is one of those collections that makes me feel that way. But I can’t just copy-paste a whole story here. There’s a lot to talk about in Motoya’s latest collection in terms of its oddity and its spotlighting of characters that radiate a certain kind of sadness. At times existential, it’s a sadness that blooms from circumstance and the particular loneliness of being both together and separate from one another.

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Although the oddity and sadness of the collection are apparent throughout, the idea of transformation is one that resonates most with her work. At times it is quite literal, in the case of the titular story, and at other times it is much more subtle. Take for example the story “Typhoon,” in which an older man and a boy watch people attempting to grapple with the wind of a typhoon as it destroys umbrellas and disrupts lives. We’ve all seen people running through the wind of a storm as it reduces their umbrellas to shambles. But our understanding of what they’re doing is wrong. It isn’t that they are attempting to get through the rain with their umbrella intact—they are trying to catch the wind on their umbrellas to launch them skyward.

The transformation of understanding of what people do with themselves is a thread that resonates heavily throughout the collection and is one that can read like twists at the ends of stories. But it really isn’t. It helps readers to reconsider things that may be fundamental to how they understand the people around them. It is this fundamental misunderstanding that lies at the heart of the titular story and many others in the collection. But these misunderstandings never come from a place of ignorance or malice—rather they come from a sense of isolation. Motoya crafts these, at times, unbelievable worlds and yet they always feel completely true. These are snapshots of contemporary Japan in which people are unable to talk due to strenuous work schedules, family situations, or simple meekness. And these small things resonate so completely that they feel unique to their location and universal.

To enjoy The Lonesome Bodybuilder is to enjoy reading. It is a collection that surprises constantly. At no point do I feel as though I know what a story will entail or how it will come to an end and I absolutely love that. The unpredictability, the depth of craft, the tangibility of these characters and their world creates a collection that is so completely outré but absolutely familiar all at once. I already want to forget that I’ve ever read it so I can experience these stories again for the first time. If a collection of stories ever felt like the familiar warm blanket draped over the couch for nights in, The Lonesome Bodybuilder fits that completely.

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Dharma Bums Drew Barth

Drew Barth (Episode 331) is a writer residing in Winter Park, FL. He received his MFA from the University of Central Florida. Right now, he’s worrying about his cat. His blog, Comics Are Trying to Break Your Heart, appears on Wednesdays on The Drunken Odyssey.