The Lonesome Bodybuilder


by Yukiko Motoya

List Price: $16.95
Paperback | 5.5 x 8.2 inches | ISBN 9781593766788
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Winner of the Akutagawa Prize and the Kenzaburo Oe Prize

A New York Times Book Review Editors’ Choice

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. The English-language debut of one of Japan’s most fearlessly inventive young writers.

Delightful . . . 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 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

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

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.


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

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

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.


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

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