The Dancing Girl of Izu by Yasunari Kawabata (Japanese Literature Challenge 13)

On the road, a traveling companion; and in the world, kindness.

~an old Japanese saying

I first heard of this short story from Masa, our travel guide, when I was visiting the Izu Peninsula in Japan two years ago. He asked if I had ever read it, as it was one of his favorites, but I told him I had not.

Just now I have finished this lovely, gentle story by Yasunari Kawabata. It tells of a twenty year old student from Tokyo as he briefly follows itinerant entertainers who perform for people in tea houses. He has noticed the beauty of the dancing girl and cannot bring himself to leave her, or her family, until he runs out of money to travel and must return to Tokyo.

There is no consummation of their relationship; there is not even an embrace, let alone a kiss. But, her hair brushes his shoulder as they play a game with stones called “Five-in-a-row.” She asks him to read her “The Story of The Lord of Mito.“

I picked up the book, with a certain expectation in my heart. Just as I hoped, the dancing girl scooted over beside me. Once I began reading, she brought her face close enough to touch my shoulder, her expression serious. Her eyes sparkled as she gazed at my forehead without blinking. It seemed to be her habit when she was being read to.

She asks him to take her to a silent movie when they come to town, but when he does, her mother forbids her to go.

They have nothing between them but a strong connection, a great affection particularly on his part. He finds something within the traveling group, within the dancing girl herself, which provides some comfort to his spirit. It isn’t until the end of the story that we find out why.

Twenty years old, I had embarked on this trip to Izu heavy with resentment that my personality had been permanently warped by my orphan’s complex and that I would never be able to overcome a stifling melancholy. So I was inexpressibly grateful to find that I looked like a nice person as the world defines the word.

I read this beautiful, melancholic short story (first published in 1926) for free by downloading it from Internet Archive, which proves to be a wonderful resource for borrowing literature. It is perfect for the Japanese Literature Challenge 13, and the first short story I’ve read for the Deal Me In Challenge.

The Deal Me In Full Moon Fever Version

First of all, I love Jay’s penchant for short stories. He has encouraged me to pick up a genre I rarely do, and it has been a rich reading experience in years past to partake in the Deal Me In Challenge.

This year, I noticed a variation on the theme. There is an option for reading one short story a month called the Full Moon Fever Version in which the reader chooses to read one short story a month.

I have a great passion for Raymond Carver, and after watching The Twilight Zone Marathon on Sy-Fy over New Year’s Eve, I am especially eager to read from the collection of short stories by Richard Matheson (who wrote sixteen Twilight Zone episodes including “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet“).

So, choosing the suite of Hearts, I plan to read the following short stories in 2020:

❤️A “Counterfeit Bills“ by Richard Matheson

❤️K “Button, Button“ by Richard Matheson

❤️Q “Dress of White Silk“ by Richard Matheson

❤️J “Haircut“ by Richard Matheson

❤️10 “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet“ by Richard Matheson

❤️9 “Chef’s House” by Raymond Carver

❤️8 “A Small Good Thing” by Raymond Carver

❤️7 “The Train” by Raymond Carver

❤️6 “Cathedral” by Raymond Carver

❤️5 “Bernice Bobs Her Hair” by F. Scott Fitzgerald

❤️4 “The Rich Boy” by F. Scott Fitzgerald

❤️3 “Last Kiss” by F. Scott Fitzgerald

❤️2 “The Captured Shadow” by F. Scott Fitzgerald

I have simplified the list to include just three authors, but you know I will sneak in some stories by Haruki Murakami. “Birthday Girl” still haunts me from last January…and you? Will you be reading any short stories in 2020?

The Open Window, a short story by Saki (It’s so good!)

I find this the best kind of short story: a first rate mind game, which is brief, and startling, and gratifying all at the same time.

Our narrator has gone to visit strangers, people recommended to him by his sister, as he is trying to overcome a nervous disorder. While he waits for the woman he has come to see, her fifteen year old niece entertains him.

“I hope you don’t mind the open window,” she says, and then proceeds to tell him that her aunt has suffered terribly since her husband and two brothers drowned in a bog when they went out hunting three years ago.

“Poor aunt always thinks they will come back someday, they and the little brown Spaniel that was lost with them, and walk in at the window just as they used to do. That is why the window is kept open every evening until it is quite dusk.”

You can imagine his surprise when the aunt comes downstairs, and quite soon in their conversation looks toward the window and says, “Ah, here they come now.”

I cannot spoil the surprise, but I am quite delighted by the unreliable narrator(s)  and thrilled to have read this piece.

It was Jess of Book Ideas who told me about “The Open Window”, a story of only four pages which you can read online here.

Paris For One by JoJo Moyes, a short story to start the year

Jay at Bibliophilopolis has sponsored a short story event called Deal Me In for several years. I have haphazardly dipped in and out of this challenge because I do not normally read many short stories. Yet, their power is not to be underestimated; in fact, it seems a perfect way to spend a Sunday afternoon: reading something brief but powerful before the work week starts.

I have begun with a short story from JoJo Moyes’ collection, Paris for One. There are nine stories in this book with the following titles:

  1. Paris For One
  2. Between The Tweets
  3. Love in the Afternoon
  4. A Bird in the Hand
  5. Crocodile Shoes
  6. Holdups
  7. Last Year’s Coat
  8. Thirteen Days with John C
  9. The Christmas List

“Paris for One”, the first story, is about Nell, who unexpectedly ends up in Paris alone after her boyfriend has essentially abandoned her. She is a person who likes to be in control of her life, planning each detail to the smallest minutiae, and so this unexpected event could have thrown her into a panic. But, when she finds two tickets to a sold out performance, she decides to go and abruptly changes the course of her weekend and her life.

This was a simple story, but a charming one, written in JoJo’s inimitable, comfortable style. I will enjoy reading the others in this collection for Jay’s challenge.

And you? Do you have any favorite short stories?

The Black Cat by Edgar Allen Poe

black-catimage

Who but Edgar could take the lovely feline found in so many cozy homes and turn it into a thing of horror? The narrator of  this story relates how he and his wife had several pets (birds, gold-fish, a fine dog, rabbits, a small monkey) but the most beautiful and sagacious was a cat.

This cat, named Pluto, was our narrator’s favorite pet and play-mate. Yet through great intemperance, he seizes it one night and cuts its eye out of the socket. As you can well imagine, the cat avoids him after this, but is unable to avoid its ultimate demise at the hands of its owner who hangs the cat in a nearby garden.

In the middle of the night he and his wife are awakened by a terrible fire. Their home is burned completely, yet the neighbors are entranced by the one remaining wall, the one on which the bedstead rested, which bears the image of a cat upon its freshly laid plaster.

Although the narrator procures a second cat of black, with a white patch ever more resembling the gallows in his mind, there is no rest from the evil which now seems to be taking over. Even the wife is not spared her husband’s guilty wrath, or the influence of a creature out for revenge, whichever way the reader intends to interpret the story. How easy it would be to place the blame of one’s evil actions on an innocent creature, when they can only be placed squarely on our own imperfect nature.

Still, when the leaves turn their edges into golden crispness, and the dusk falls sooner than it did a few weeks ago, it is somehow pleasant to think of black cats…to wonder that if they are wronged, they will somehow cause the truth to prevail.