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Inside and Other Short Fiction

by Elliott Samuels

Staff Writer

The tagline on the cover of this provocative anthology pretty much sums it up in a nutshell: “Japanese women by Japanese women.” Featuring eight short stories and a foreword by novelist Ruth Ozeki, “Inside and Other Short Fiction” is a gritty introduction to contemporary writers who explore the issue of female identity.

Inside and Other Short Fiction, by Various Edited by Cathy Layne.
Kodansha International, Fiction.

Even the jacket art helps tie the theme of the collection together, featuring Tomoko Sawada’s arresting photo-booth images of herself in a variety of guises — images that question not only her own identity but the identity of all women.

Highlights of the anthology include Junko Hasegawa’s “The Unfertilized Egg,” in which a middle-aged woman gradually falls apart under the expectation she produce a child before her biological clock stops ticking. Yuzuki Muroi’s “Piss,” meanwhile, explicitly chronicles the harsh realities facing a sex worker in Tokyo struggling to keep her head above water.

Rio Shimamoto’s title piece aside, there’s an overwhelming sense of detachment throughout almost every tale, with lecherous — if not outright adulterous — men usually making guest appearances in the background. As far as each female protagonist seems to be concerned, men are little more than wallpaper. Indeed, it was with some reluctance that, as a man, this writer volunteered to pen this review. That said, men are precisely the audience that is likely to get the most out of this collection.

Each week “Essentials” introduces a work of fiction that should be on the bookshelf of any Japanophile.