Review of People from My Neighborhood by Hiromi Kawakami

Hiromi Kawakami collects here a dreamlike conglomeration of semi-related characters and events from her part of town, if the title and interior clues are to be believed.

The random nature of the images and events lend the collection an experimental feel. The writing is smooth and simple and unadorned. Her earlier novels and stories were more atmospheric and consistent in my opinion. The quality of the ideas wavered from intriguing to objectively bad. Nonetheless, I admit it is hard to judge absurdist or bizarro works. They are not trying to make sense. Yet, I only consider a bizarro idea successful if it is either memorable or comments obliquely on the real world, either through satire or subtext. There appears to be some of the latter going on, and I only wish more of the vignettes resolved into memorable stories or packed more of a punch.

Like with her previous works in English, her subdued storytelling is softer than Yoko Ogawa’s and the spheres from which she draws her subject matter are not as far-flung as Yoko Tawada’s, but any of her books are approachable, somewhat enjoyable, and similar in feel to Banana Yoshimoto’s.

Be prepared for dog principals, pigeonitis, and other wacky scenarios. None of them are explored into perversity and remain tethered to a quirky sort of mundanity. No matter how out-there H. K. ventures, she is typically unwilling to offend anybody. If you liked Convenience Store Woman, you should check out Kawakami’s work, and watch for a subliminal appreciation for wabi-sabi.

I do hope more of her translated works make it into English soon.

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