The Lonesome Bodybuilder



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Book Description

Winner of the Akutagawa Prize and the Kenzaburo Oe Prize, these eleven surreal tales, set in the offices, zoos, bus stops, boutiques, and homes of contemporary Japan “are reminiscent, at least to this reader, of Joy Williams and Rivka Galchen and George Saunders” (Weike Wang, The New York Times Book Review, Editors’ Choice).

In the English-language debut of one of Japan’s most fearlessly inventive young writers a housewife takes up bodybuilding and sees radical changes to her physique, which her workaholic husband fails to notice. A boy waits at a bus stop, mocking commuters struggling to keep their umbrellas open in a typhoon, until an old man shows him that they hold the secret to flying. A saleswoman in a clothing boutique waits endlessly on a customer who won’t come out of the fitting room, and who may or may not be human. A newlywed notices that her spouse’s features are beginning to slide around his face to match her own.

In these eleven stories, the individuals who lift the curtains of their orderly homes and workplaces are confronted with the bizarre, the grotesque, the fantastic, the alien–and find a doorway to liberation.

About the Authors

Praise For This Book

Praise for The Lonesome Bodybuilder

A New York Times Book Review Editors' Choice
Finalist for the 2019 Otherwise Award
A World Literature Today Notable Translation of the Year
An Electric Literature Best Short Story Collection of the Year
Named 1 of 31 New Books by People of Colour to Get Excited About This Year by Cosmopolitan (UK)

"Prize-winning Japanese author Motoya offers a collection of 11 stories that fuse the banality of the everyday with dreamlike elements of fantasy. Motoya explores marriage, gender and power through stories that begin with real life--the titular story is about a woman who decides to become a bodybuilder--and slowly turn surreal." --Time

"In this delightful collection, realistic setups turn magical and surreal to illuminate deeper themes of marriage, gender and love." --The New York Times Book Review, Editors' Choice

"In Yukiko Motoya's delightful new story collection, the familiar becomes unfamiliar . . . At face value, the stories are fun and funny to read, but weightier questions lurk below the surface . . . The writing itself is to be admired . . . Certainly the style will remind readers of the Japanese authors Banana Yoshimoto and Sayaka Murata, but the stories themselves--and the logic, or lack thereof, within their sentences--are reminiscent, at least to this reader, of Joy Williams and Rivka Galchen and George Saunders." --Weike Wang, The New York Times Book Review

"The stories are funny and creepy; they have a campfire vibe, a brush of the moonless night . . . The tales boil down to the problem of balancing empathy with self-assertion--of both practicing kindness and expressing your own needs, and all while the people around you are behaving like wraiths or aliens. Motoya's protagonists feel quietly radical in a literary moment that seems particularly interested in unpacking various forms of narcissism. They treat the importance of others' inner lives as a given . . . Meanwhile, the reader watches each transformation and stab at connection. She becomes the bulge in the curtain, the shadow on the other side of the glass--the strange one." --Katy Waldman, The New Yorker

"In this alien yet familiar world, invisible forces assume physical shapes: two lovers become identical to each other; girlfriends develop features desired by their boyfriends. The monstrous plots prompt human queries: Does getting comfortable in a relationship involve a loss of self? Is one's identity bounded by one's surroundings?" --The New Yorker

"The stories are openly fantastical, inventing the sorts of feminist fairy tales that were popularized by Angela Carter and have been adapted with wit and ingenuity by writers like Han Kang and Carmen Maria Machado . . . Strange and strangely hopeful." --Sam Sacks, The Wall Street Journal

"Ingenious, funny and frightening." --Chris Power, The Guardian

"The Lonesome Bodybuilder is peak bizarre, a strange juggling act of absurdism, humor, horror and magical realism. These are stories about the strange bouts of insanity domesticity can inflict upon us and the abstract freedoms we find in breaking routine." --San Francisco Chronicle, Recommendations from Green Apple Books on the Park

"Channeling the surrealist spirit of Banana Yoshimoto and Aimee Bender, Yukiko Motoya's trippy debut story collection, The Lonesome Bodybuilder (Soft Skull Press), alchemizes commonplace frustrations--a malfunctioning umbrella in a downpour, a tedious meeting--into marvelous allegories . . . Weird and wonderful." --Michelle Hart, O, The Oprah Magazine

"Yukiko Motoya's English-language debut, The Lonesome Bodybuilder, translated by Asa Yoneda, features characters that move in and out of surreal circumstances as if wandering through different rooms of a house. In the story 'The Straw Husband, ' a woman is married to a man made of straw who, after becoming upset with her, begins to spew miniature orchestral instruments--timpani, clarinets, snare drums--from his body, until he's left deflated and unconscious. This is just one of several of Motoya's stories that examine relationships, especially marriage between a man and a woman, with an absurdist lens. But we can still recognize the discord and unruliness of human emotions; the story unfolds with a kind of quiet violence often found in the domestic realm." --T: The New York Times Style Magazine

"The characters in Motoya's incredibly enjoyable stories--translated by Asa Yoneda--are in the grip of unsettling transformations. Facing a world that is warping into weirdness, they breezily describe how bodies, emotions and minds can also be subject to the most surprising of changes." --Eithne Farry, The Daily Mail

"An often surreal, at times disturbing, and reliably twisted look at the hidden sides of our everyday lives. By peeking behind the closed doors of our mundane existences, Motoya offers up truly unsettling looks at the things people are capable of doing. It is a particular, strange pleasure to read these stories for the first time; everyone should relish getting that opportunity." --NYLON

"This may well give Your Duck Is My Duck a run for its money as best title of the century. People around the world have been whispering Motoya's name in my ear. Now she's translated into English!" --Gary Shteyngart, Vulture

"The 11 short stories in this collection, translated by Asa Yoneda, range in tone from ominous thrillers to lighthearted folktales . . . Motoya's eerie touches allow the characters to embrace inconvenient and irrational parts of themselves; at moments when self-doubt is making them flounder, these otherworldly intrusions act as a corrective force." --Alana Mohamed, The Atlantic

"Motoya is part of a rising generation of Japanese writers, many of them women, who write with deadpan confidence and inventiveness about families, work and the female experience . . . Motoya, in Asa Yoneda's subtle and unobtrusive translation, never uses the word 'yearning, ' but [the title] story, like so many others, is saturated with a sense of longing. Her characters seem to be searching for the strangest, and most estranged, parts of themselves. While not explicitly feminist, her female protagonists share a capacity for small rebellions, sudden twitches against life-long habits of conformity . . . Motoya's signature, a gift she shares with other contemporary writers such as Carmen Maria Machado or International Man Booker-winner Han Kang, is the striking image . . . As a result these arresting, hyper-real stories linger in the imagination and tend to engage your curiosity rather than your empathy . . . By the first few sentences of The Lonesome Bodybuilder, you know you're hearing the voice of a remarkable writer; by the end of "An Exotic Marriage," you're certain that Yukiko Motoya's shivery, murmuring voice will never completely leave you." --Financial Times

"Motoya [has a] gift for making the ordinary magical." --Jane Ciabattari, BBC Culture

"Motoya has an extraordinary imagination and a clear, direct writing style which makes this offbeat collection a rare treat." --Martha Alexander, Evening Standard

"Like a bouquet of exotic flowers, her stories are varied and full of surprise, starting out with mundane situations and then turning strange . . . It takes skill to pull off magical realism--and Motoya is up to the task . . . Readers who still enjoy fiction for sheer entertainment should get their hands on these stories." --The Japan Times

"Offering a fascinating and insightful dimension into the intricacies of human paranoia, the 11 stories in The Lonesome Bodybuilder study extremes and absurdities rooted in the mundane. A hopeful exploration of things that appear outlandish or foreign, these stories are deft, courageous, and written with intense honesty and clarity." --PEN America

"Few writers have managed to blend themes of feminism with the psychedelic as joyfully as Motoya." --Trent McGee, Popzara

"Japanese author Motoya, winner of the country's prestigious Akutagawa Prize, returns to U.S. readers with a blissfully surreal collection . . . Reality blurs with the fantastic, offering a welcome escape hatch out of a seemingly impossibly bleak world." ―HuffPost

"This is especially perfect for any Haruki Murakami fans out there . . . Her stories capture the small, intimate moments that make up relationships. Come for the fun neon cover, stay for the beautifully crafted stories." --The Daily Princetonian

"In 11 short stories, Yukiko Motoya pulls back the curtain from everyday lives, to reveal that beneath the most mundane lies a world bizarre and alien." --Bustle

"This newly translated collection of short stories is a peek into the lives of seemingly ordinary characters who find themselves in bizarre, otherworldly, and truly strange circumstances that will challenge the boundaries of your imagination." --Bustle

"Motoya takes ordinary objects like umbrellas, curtains, dogs, rocks, etc., and ensures we never see them the same way again. Whether she's exploring marriage or gender or power, her surreal, absurdist, fantastical way of looking at the world is reminiscent of Angela Carter and, in more recent times, Carmen Maria Machado. Her talent with varied voices comes through well in this skillful translation. The title story, about a housewife who takes up bodybuilding and what that does to her relationship with her not-so-observant husband, is representative of Motoya's worldview throughout: behind every seemingly normal home or workplace, there are weird, unsettling aspects. We only have to be willing to look." --Jenny Bhatt, PopMatters, 1 of the 12 Best Short Story Collections of the Year

"A bizarre set of short stories, brimming with dark humor, that pack a feminist punch and address issues women across borders and generations can certainly relate to. As we read, we come to realize that no aspect of modern Japanese life is safe (for the mind at least) as Motoya skillfully questions what would happen if we take modern behavior to the extreme, holding up a mirror to some of the issues found in patriarchal Japan . . . The Lonesome Bodybuilder is a masterful must-read collection." --Jessica Esa, Savvy Tokyo

"The book's 11 tales are, in one way or another, about the fettering of freedom. Many of the characters seek lives yet unlived, or lives once lived but later forgotten. They confront their stifled independence: velleities give way to keen yearnings, desires twist toward violence . . . This sense of unpredictability traverses the entire collection, and yet the stories rarely seem desultory." --Matthew D. Rodrigues, Slant

"Perfect for fans of absurd, dark humor . . . In Japanese contemporary fiction, we're often given a slice of life and that life is explored to its fullest. Motoya has managed to achieve that same feat within a few pages and then turn it on its head in the most ridiculous manner. Masterful." --Metropolis

"Motoya's unique magical realism settings make these stories unforgettable." --Johanna Dong, The Margins

"In Motoya's collection, bodies and identities exist to be blurred, transformed, and shifted into something more surreal. The physical and spiritual crises that her characters face are both real and serious, but the methods by which they're transposed into these fictional settings leave plenty of space for a sense of playfulness. It's a study in contrasts that pays off dramatically over the course of the collection." --Tobias Carroll, Words Without Borders

"Imaginative and unusual . . . The stories in this colorful volume see through the veil of the bureaucratic everyday and reveal the surreal that rests behind each changing-room door and under each umbrella." --World Literature Today

"Absurd, creepy, and thoroughly engrossing, this Japanese short story collection is an absolute masterpiece . . . This provocative book will keep you turning pages with its sheer creativity." --Chicago Review of Books

"Reading Motoya, you forget what weird is. You forget what is normal. She does not so much break down reality as she allows for its most fantastical potential to bloom." --Katherine Beaman, Commonplace Review

"The eleven stories in The Lonesome Bodybuilder are as acute as fiction can get. They are knife-sharp, almost unbearably precise . . . A reader could easily be so transported by the dark-fairytale nature of Motoya's stories, their glimmering weirdness and constant, sly humor, that she forgets to think about the translator . . . There is wonder in translation, and especially in a translation as thoughtful and skillful as this. The Lonesome Bodybuilder is a rare and absolute treat." --Lily Meyer, Electric Literature

"These 11 stories delight as they reveal the bizarre, absurd, and lonely of Japanese domestic life." --Andrea Oh, Electric Literature

"I would find the characters in these stories saying things that I have said alone to myself, which felt oddly homey. While in the same moment (quite literally) shape-shifting/morphing into something unexpectedly foreign but fever-dream familiar. Fun fact: Motoya is a playwright, which you'll notice by how well her characters come to life." --Ashleah Gonzales, W magazine, Great Quarantine Reads

"The twelve hilarious fables in Yukiko Motoya's The Lonesome Bodybuilder look at everyday life so closely they turn it inside out . . . Like Kelly Link and Karen Russell, the writers in America she most resembles, there's an almost magician-like quality to what Motoya does: there's no sleight of hand. It happens right in front of you. Yet the way she tilts reality always interrogates something bigger, like the meaning of masculinity in a marriage. This is thrilling work, and alongside Mieko Kawakami and Sayaka Murata, it seems clear there's a movement of sorts coming from Japan." --John Freeman, Literary Hub

"Yukiko Motoya walks us confidently through a series of familiar worlds turned on their heads." --Heather Cleary, Book Marks

"[Motoya's] work stands out for its ability to emphasize the power of paying attention and, conversely, the problems that arise in that attention's absence . . . The success of . . . the collection is built on passages that recognize the outlandish nature of what is happening without writing about them in an outlandish way. That level of control is perhaps Motoya's crowning achievement in The Lonesome Bodybuilder." --Bradley Babendir, Bookforum

"The Lonesome Bodybuilder is an impressive collection of stories and enjoyable to read, thanks in part to Asa Yoneda's translation . . . Here's hoping we get to see more of [Motoya's] books in English at some point." --Tony's Reading List

"This inventive and chilling volume will have U.S. audiences craving more from Motoya." --Library Journal

"Motoya's English-language debut is an unusual but ingenious collection that blends dark humor and bemused first-person narrators suddenly confronted with unhappy relationships and startling realities . . . Funny without collapsing into wackiness, these eccentric, beguiling stories are reminiscent of Haruki Murakami and Kafka." --Publishers Weekly

"Playwright-turned-novelist Motoya has been steadily making her presence felt in the English-language market in literary magazines like Granta. Here she offers a deft combination of magic realism and contemporary irony . . . A whimsical story collection from a gifted writer with a keen eye and a playful sense of humor." --Kirkus Reviews

"Motoya spots deviant situations everywhere and creates unexpected situations that unfold like a slapstick cartoon. As silly as Motoya's stories can get, they are great fun."--Booklist

"I loved this collection of quirky and wonderful stories . . . Motoya is a magician--she takes mundane, daily life and just twists it into strange and fantastic tales . . . I'd recommend this collection to fans of Hiromi Kawakami and Carmen Maria Machado." --Pierce Alquist, Book Riot, One of the Best Books We Read in December

"Yukiko Motoya's story collection The Lonesome Bodybuilder, her first in English, will appeal to readers who appreciate Murakami's surrealism, but who lament his lack of attention to fully realized gender dynamics. In the worlds Motoya describes, strangeness is inseparable from those dynamics, which she takes to be worthy of attention . . . The narrators in each first-person story combine the creepy horror of Kafka with the ice-cold frankness of Raymond Carver . . . Motoya's work will impress anybody who has a taste for well-imagined dreamworlds." --Scott Stevens, The Stanford Daily

"Charming, bizarre, and uncanny, The Lonesome Bodybuilder is Etgar Keret by way of Yoko Ogawa. I'd follow Yukiko Motoya anywhere she wanted to take me." --Carmen Maria Machado, author of Her Body and Other Parties

"Motoya has crafted a world -- nay, a universe -- entirely of her own with peculiar logic and physics. That mark of creativity is something that should be celebrated . . . Hold on to your seatbelts . . . because this is quite a ride, a thrill, a rush. Nothing like this has been done before, after all, and you're bound to get something beguiling out of this work." --Zachary Houle

"Playful and eerie and utterly enchanting, Yukiko Motoya's stories are like fun-house mazes built to get lost in, where familiar shapes and features from the everyday world are revealed to you as if for the first time, twisted into marvelously odd shapes. These eleven stories possess a mundanely magical logic all their own, surprising and entirely absorbing." --Alexandra Kleeman, author of Intimations and You Too Can Have A Body Like Mine

"I knew immediately this book was a work of quality entertainment by a writer who had consciously worked to hone their craft--but was it literature? I had the lingering doubts of an old man now far removed from the current readership. Wanting to delve deeper, I decided to read it again, laying aside my long-held view of fiction: one that demarcated 'entertainment' from 'real literature.' I realized I couldn't deny it. This collection serves almost as a sampler of fresh ideas and forms, but the pieces demanded more than simply to enjoy them and then put them away, saying, 'Well, that was fun.' How is it that these pieces work with their twists and tricks, and then, on top of that, also attain the state of literature? The writer possesses an acuity in human observation that will be a life's work, and the prose skill to describe it concisely. After tasting the delightful surprises in each story in this varied collection, I felt not as though I had passed through a gallery hung with individual talents, but that I had seen at one glance the irrepressible formation of an artist." --Kenzaburo Oe, author of A Personal Matter and The Silent Cry

"I could never try to explain Yukiko Motoya's stories. For me, the joy of reading fiction isn't to analyze it, but to feel it in my body. In that sense, her writing offers enormous satisfaction to the sensitive organ inside me that is attuned to the pleasure of reading." --Hiromi Kawakami, author of The Nakano Thrift Shop and Strange Weather in Tokyo

"I was impressed by how each story has a different idea, none being mere variations on a theme. It's not a book to consume in one sitting. Read carelessly and you run the risk of ending up flat on your back with no idea of what just hit you. It dawned on me that in these pieces, Motoya, already well-known for theater, was trying to achieve in fiction the gamut of what can't be done on stage. Reading this made me want to sit down and get to work. This is a collection that is provocative to writers as well." --Yasutaka Tsutsui, author of Paprika

"The stories in The Lonesome Bodybuilder range from slightly bizarre to all-out bananas . . . [Motoya] has presented a set of stories focusing on the emotional, while peppering in moments of absurdity. The core of every story is about isolation and a deep desire to make a human connection, and because of that they flourish under her steady hand . . . These stories, embracing the absurd, are a better reflection of life than most pieces of fiction I read these days." --Joseph Edwin Haeger, The Big Smoke