Monkey Business: New Writing from Japan, Volume 4

Monkey Business: New Writing from Japan, Volume 4Editors: Motoyuki Shibata and Ted Goossen
Publisher: A Public Space
ISSN: 2159-7138
ISBN: 9780615962757
Released: March 2014

The original Monkey Business was a Japanese literary journal was published between 2008 and 2011. 2011 also saw the launch of Monkey Business: New Writing from Japan, the English-language, international edition of the journal. Edited by Motoyuki Shibata, who was also heavily involved with the original Monkey Business, and Ted Goossen, the English-language Monkey Business is released annually and collects a variety of fiction, poetry, nonfiction, essays, and manga. The selections found in the fourth volume of the journal, published in 2014, come from a range of sources, including but not limited to the original Monkey Business and its followup journal Monkey (launched in 2013). In addition to works that had previously been published, some of the contributions selected were specifically commissioned for the fourth issue. I’ve been reading and enjoying the international edition of Monkey Business since its beginning and always look forward to the newest volume.

The fourth issue of the international edition of Monkey Business collects twenty-three works, mostly short stories, contributed by creators from Japan, the United Kingdom, and the United States. The earliest work was originally published in 1845 while the most recent contributions were released for the first time in this particular volume. Quite a few of the artists and authors are returning to Monkey Business, including some of my personal favorites. I’m always glad to see more of Toh Enjoe’s work translated and I was not at all disappointed with his bizarre short story “A Record of My Grandmother.” I’ve also become rather fond of Keita Jin’s short stories and very much enjoyed “The Girl Behind the Register Blows Bubbles.” Some selections like Hiromi Kawakai’s “People from My Neighborhood” and Sachiko Kishimoto’s “The Forbidden Diary” are continuations from previous volumes of Monkey Business. I particularly look forward to reading those authors from one issue to the next. I also really enjoyed Masatsuga Ono’s short story, “The Man Who Turned Into a Buoy.” This actually surprised me a bit as I usually struggle with Ono’s work. Another favorite was Gen’ichirō Takahashi very strange story “Demon Beasts.”

Other returnees to Monkey Business include Stuart Dybek with the short story “Naked,” Hideo Furukawa with “The Bears of Mount Nametoko,” Yoko Hayasuke with “Eri’s Physics,” Mina Ishikawa with “The Lighthouse on the Desk” (which is a collection of tanka poems), Mieko Kawakami with the story “The Little Girl Blows Up Her Pee Anxiety, My Heart Races,” Taki Monma with “White Socks,” and Richard Powers with “The Global Distributed Self-Mirroring Subterranean Soul-Sharing Picture Show,” a fascinating essay about Haruki Murakami’s fiction and brain science. The two manga contributions included in the fourth volume of Monkey Business are also from artists who have been a part of the journal in the past. Brother and Sister Nishioka adapt Bruno Schulz’ story “Tailors’ Dummies” (it’s nice to see them branch out from works by Franz Kafka) and Fumiko Takano illustrates a highly abstract adaptation of “The Little Match-Girl” by Hans Christian Anderson. A translation of Anderson’s original story is also included, which is particularly helpful for those readers who are not familiar with it when trying to make narrative sense of Takano’s rendition.

While it’s wonderful to see so many returning creators to Monkey Business, I also greatly appreciate that the journal always includes someone or something new. “Everybody’s Got Something to Hide Except Me and My Monkey”, the fourth volume’s opening work by Craft Ebbing & Co., is probably the most unusual—a series of photographs of an art piece with accompanying narration. Of all the newcomers to this issue of Monkey Business, I particularly enjoyed Brian Evenson’s short story “The Punish” and the tangentially related “A Message to My Japanese Readers,” a collection of short essays by Evenson and three other authors (Laird Hunt, Denis Johnson, and Salvador Plascencia). Other short stories from authors new to the journal include Doppo Kunikida’s “Unforgettable People,” Kenji Miyazawa’s “The Restaurant of Many Orders” (previously I had only read examples of his poetry), David Peace’s “After Ryūnosuke, Before Ryūnosuke” and Hyakken Uchida’s “The Sarasate Disk.” Overall, I don’t feel that the fourth volume was quite as diverse as previous issues of Monkey Business. However, it’s still a solid collection. Many of the stories tend toward the slightly strange, bizarre, and absurd, but that’s a sort of fiction that I happen to enjoy.

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