Hana Sasaki's Misadventure in the Movies

Article by annalia

By Annalia Linnan 

The biggest advantage to independent presses is their freedom (dare I say obligation?) to take risks. If our Minneapolis friend Coffee House Press is a symphony that hosts established soloists, our Austin neighbor A Strange Object seems more like a coveted record producer, always on the hunt for unknown talent.

 

Since its founding in 2012, A Strange Object has specialized in “surprising, heartbreaking fiction” with an edge. Take, for example, Kelly Luce's THREE SCENARIOS IN WHICH HANA SASAKI GROWS A TAIL. Though Luce herself hails from Illinois, she draws on her three years of living and working in Japan to create a piercing voice that meditates on myths, habits, and traditions that shirk the hustle and individualism of her motherland.

 

In Luce's version of Japan, there is a man that can hear the wishes of strangers who throw coins into the fountain at a local park. A woman discovers her toaster can produce the kanji for how a person will die. Young schoolgirls disappear into karaoke machines. Yet the thread that holds Luce's stories together is her tendency to take a single idea--a dead sibling, a distant spouse--and examine it as deeply as possible.

 

The last story in the book starts with something simple: a letter in the mail. “I write in the spirit of greatest hope, and am aiming to reach the Ms. Aya Kawaguchi who was the student of Keio University in 1969,” it reads. “If this is not she, please ignore this letter.” The Aya who receives this letter knows she is not the Aya this professor seeks--the legendary one whose profound capacity to love was recorded by Keio University’s Amorometer--but she feels drawn by the coincidence. She breaks out her old viola, tells her husband a white lie about joining a string quartet, then takes the train to Tokyo to meet her correspondent and her new identity. But how does assuming somebody else’s life affect Aya’s internal state? This story is emblematic of Luce’s mission as a writer: to focus on the slow shifting of a mind rather than a series of actions.

 

Press mate Nicholas Grider also concerns himself with the internal in his short story collection MISADVENTURE. The introduction, "Millions of Americans Are Strange," pins readers to a landscape of agoraphobia, seemingly useless college degrees, a plethora of debit cards, and millions of people who live alone. But do not be mistaken: Grider's stories aren't about those millions en masse. It is about you and me among those millions, our unspoken neuroticism, secrets, letters we write then throw away.

 

Here's the typical grit Grider offers: his title story documents two deaths, one the police rule as "misadventure" (drowning) and another by suicide. When the group that once contained these friends unhinges, the narrator continues to try misguided ways of dispelling his grief until he finds himself tying up strangers with ropes in a swimsuit similar to the one his friend was wearing the night he died. He wants the men he has bound to tell him how it feels.

 

With its third publication (coming November 4), A Strange Object turns to the visual media with Michael McGriff and J.M. Tyree's OUR SECRET LIFE IN THE MOVIES. Inspired by everything from the Criterion Collection to music videos, McGriff and Tyree speak as two boys growing up in the 1980s, dreaming of space walks and nuclear wastelands as movies like Blade Runner and Red Dawn echo the chaotic world around them. This book asks questions about our relationship with the movies: Can we ever truly separate ourselves from the constructs in which we lose ourselves? If I fall asleep with the TV on, who is to say what’s real--my sleeping self traipsing around my imagination, or the characters on screen pontificating into the dark?

 

On November 6, we're hosting a release party for OUR SECRET LIFE IN THE MOVIES and a celebration of A Strange Object at Grand Prize Bar. Join us! 

 

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