A direct influence on authors Risa Wataya and Hitomi Kanehara, Amy Yamada was part of the shinjinrui (new breed) generation that came of age in the late ’70s, the first to grow up in an affluent, peaceful postwar Japan. Side-effects of prosperity included ennui and alienation from their parents, often manifesting in hedonism — the very stuff of Yamada’s fiction.

Bedtime Eyes, by Amy Yamada
224 pages
St Martines Press, Fiction.

These three novellas wallow in a world of sexual liberation, immaturity and rebellion. “Bedtime Eyes” tells the story of Kim, a club singer and occasional prostitute who falls in love with Spoon, AWOL from the U.S. Navy. “The Piano Player’s Fingers” shows us Ruiko, a Tokyo barfly and Leroy, a jazz pianist, their obsessive relationship based around earth-shattering sex and the breakdown of a distinction between love and hate. “Jesse” centers on Coco, a stage more mature than Kim and Ruiko, who moves in with her boyfriend Rick but has to deal with the titular teenage monster that is his son.

Yamada’s work broke many taboos, much more so than contemporary Ryu Murakami. By dwelling so graphically on an underworld of sex, drugs and violence through the eyes of women who are neither victims nor passive, and by focusing on them engaging in consensual casual sex with black Americans, she butchered many of conservative Japan’s sacred cows. But Yamada’s writing is more than shock — the stark prose and Beat-like focus on the present turn titillation into great literature.

Read archived reviews of Japanese classics at jtimes.jp/essential.

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