Wednesday, December 29, 2010
Dave Maass is a dogged journalist. He spends a lot of time digging around politicians and organizations as a reporter for the alt-weekly San Diego CityBeat. But when he's not unearthing scandals and holding public officials accountable, he writes fiction.
Maass has written a collection of short stories, three in all, titled "Kuro Crow," all stemming from his experience living in Japan. They've just been published by an electronic publishing company specializing in short fiction called Boxfire Press.
If you just received a Kindle or an e-reader as a gift, why not add a local writer to your diet of e-reading? I've yet to take the e-reading plunge, but the fact that Maass' stories, and those of other writers, might only be available electronically means it's time to cast a wider net.
Maass' stories aren't typical travelogues disguised as short fiction. Observations about Japan are secondary. The author's voice is most prominent: humorous, irreverent, slightly cynical, and clever. These stories work if Maass' is a voice you want to spend time with.
The opening story, "All You Can Stomach" is a funny, first-person tale of two English teachers in Japan who fly to Korea to get their Visas renewed.
Immediately after landing, our protagonists end up in a cult church where they are forced into a cleansing ritual, much to the hungry narrator's dismay (all he wants is Korean barbecue after months of noodle dishes).
The narrator's voice is agitated and cranky, which fuels the story's sarcastic, irreverent tone. He describes his American companion:
She suffers from what I call Liberal Tourette Syndrome. We’ll be discussing the weather, teaching methods, or American versus Japanese Disneylands, and out of nowhere she’ll blurt something about aggression by rich, white dudes in someplace irrelevant, like Gabon or Myanmar.
When fearful he might be brainwashed by the Korean religious cult, the narrator reminds himself: "I hold the chopsticks." As you identify with the hungry narrator and direct your scorn at his flighty companion, the rug gets pulled out from under you in the end.
"All You Can Stomach" won second place in an essay contest judged by Gen X chronicler Douglas Coupland and is completely entertaining.
The title story, "Kuro Crow," is my favorite of the three – it's more ambitious, though perhaps not as sure-footed as the others. It's certainly the most atmospheric and darkest of the three, and there is a nervous humor about it.
"Kuro Crow" is another first-person tale featuring two men, one American, the other Japanese, in a bar in Tokyo trying to overcome a language barrier while getting drunk. Hanging over their exchange is the recent disappearance of a visiting white girl, which dovetails with the narrator's obsession with oversized black crows he sees in Tokyo streets and alleys.
The narrator decides it's the menacing crows that have pecked the white girl to death. His theory is the seed of urban legend, tacked onto the stream of conjecture swirling around the girl's disappearance.
"Kuro Crow" has a slightly Hitchcockian aspect to it: a foreboding opening scene, a stranger in a foreign place, tension, a whole riff on how everyone pretends to be something they are not, an unsolved murder, and – of course – the dark crows, both Hitchcockian predator and symbol.
The first two stories share a narrator who turns to humor as he experiences the surreal moments one has in a foreign land.
According to Maass, the last story, "Whitecaps," is better heard than read.
I can see why (though it's a pleasure to read), as it makes ample use of an anaphora: "He kissed her because…". Each stanza explores the motivations of a sailor on leave who is poised to kiss a girl on the dance floor. His envious buddy (our narrator) looks on. Narrator and subject's relationship is best summed up in this nice turn of phrase: "He kissed her because, while I could always tell a story, he would always have a story to tell."
Here's hoping the same is true of Dave Maass.