I like well designed books and often choose what I read by its cover — despite the well-known adage, I am rarely disappointed. Yuko Shimizu’s illustration on the front of “Three Scenarios in Which Hana Sasaki Grows a Tail” immediately drew me in — the red-lipped, naked girl with long black hair and matching tail hinting at the oddities within.
“Three Scenarios” is a collection of 10 short stories set in, or with a connection to, Japan and is perhaps an odd choice for Austin, Texas-based publisher A Strange Object to choose as its first book.
The author, Kelly Luce, lived in Japan for three years and clearly picked up a liking for classic Japanese folk tales as many of her stories feel like they are updated fables. There’s the young wife with a mysterious past who may or may not be the “Blue Demon of Ikumi”; “Ms. Yamada’s Toaster,” which has the power to predict the way a person will die; the guilt-ridden sister in “Rooey” who transforms into her dead brother after he is killed by a shark; and the titular Hana Sasaki who casually washes the long black hair of her tail with shampoo.
In her stories Luce manages to effortlessly capture both what it’s like to be a foreigner in Japan and to write in a believable way from the perspective of a native. Her characters are lonely housewives, school kids and outsiders — gaijin, hāfu, otaku — and somewhat melancholic, yet any reader who has experienced moments of discombobulation in Japan will relate. Even if you don’t, you’re still likely to find yourself entangled in the tales of “Hana Sasaki.”