The Lonesome Bodybuilder: Stories is a collection of eleven short stories by Yukiko Motoya that center around the idea of identity, of being oneself and how hard selfhood can be to define and maintain, particularly in relationships with others. The title story, “The Lonesome Bodybuilder” is perhaps one of the most conventional, a woman whose self-confidence has been eroded by her husband’s criticism takes up body-building and learns more about herself and her husband.

Perhaps the most hilarious story is “Fitting Room” where an over-accommodating clerk is determined to find the right outfit for a client who won’t come out of the fitting room. In “Typhoon” a young boy mocks people opening their umbrellas in the impossible winds until he learns it is because they can fly. “I Called You By Name” is hallucinogenic with uncertainty. Is there someone hiding behind the curtain or is she losing her grip?

“An Exotic Marriage” is disturbing and seems to capture so many of the themes in this book. A woman notices her husband appearance is changing, but then so is hers. A neighbor tells her of how a woman was changing to look like her husband until she put a rock between them. A close friend explains how to her marriage is like an ouroboros, each partner consuming the other.

“Paprika Jiro” and “How to Burden the Girl” are both fantastical stories with great battles and high body counts of cartoonish like evildoers, the latter though is a disturbing new examination of the Oedipal Complex. “The Women” and “Q & A” reconsiders the objectification of women, the later is hilarious. “The Dogs” is almost Lovecraftian weird, though the narrator is perhaps the most self-possessed. Is it because she is all alone?

“The Straw Husband” is another look at marriage. A woman marries a straw husband who when he is angry, musical instruments fly out his mouth depleting his life force. It’s really strange to try to explain, but like all the stories makes total sense while you’re in the midst of them.

I love the discipline and pure craft of a good short story. With few words, Motoya creates a new world in each story, one that has an internal logic even though it is a world never imagined before. This is magical realism at its best. The mundane becomes surreal and reveals who and what we are.

The stories in The Lonesome Bodybuilder: Stories are like nothing you will have read before. That’s what makes them so exiciting.

I received an e-galley of The Lonesome Bodybuilder: Stories from the publisher through Edelweiss.

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