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

An Electric Literature Best Short Story Collection of the Year

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.

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

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

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

Delightful . . . reminiscent, at least to this reader, of Joy Williams and Rivka Galchen and George Saunders.

—Weike Wang, The New York Times Book Review

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

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

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

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

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.


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.


[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

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

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

Motoya has an extraordinary imagination and a clear, direct writing style which makes this offbeat collection a rare treat.

—Martha Alexander, Evening Standard

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