Misandrist sentiments dominate: The feelings of women toward men in these stories are usually some mixture of contempt, fear or “a faint hatred for the male of the species.” Mostly, the men of these tales are mediocre at best, abusers at worst. Women are often indifferent to men’s affection, an attitude made all the more stark because it is affirmed rather than altered by self-reflection. In “Hey, It’s a Love Psychedelic!,” a woman on a bad date thinks of the older, fashion-backward man she’s with, “God, he looks idiotic,” then: “Why am I like this? My heart’s made of stone. But am I sad about it? Not really. Not at all.” Suzuki, who died in 1986, regularly plays this disaffection as deadpan black comedy: In “The Covenant,” a story about adolescent girls whose lack of emotions leads them to believe they may be extraterrestrial rather than human, one character thinks to herself that she “hadn’t felt a thing even when a boy she went to school with tried to gas himself after she ignored the love letter he’d written her. I guess he must’ve convinced himself he was in love with me, was all she thought.”
This misandry is of a piece with the collection’s generally jaundiced outlook. Several of Suzuki’s women suffer from depression; some are in mental hospitals. Others are shallow narcissists, as is the protagonist of “My Guy,” one of the strongest stories. It follows roughly the same plot beats as the warmhearted ’80s movies “Starman” and “Splash”: A human whose life is unfulfilling meets a being of the opposite sex who seems human but isn’t, and the nonhuman teaches the human how to love. But Suzuki gives this storyline a viciously subversive edge. Soon after the alien visiting Earth appears in the protagonist’s life, she is puzzled that, since “all men, as a rule, found me attractive,” he doesn’t immediately want to sleep with her (“Are you a homo?” she asks. “Homo? As in homogenous?” he replies). When she first sees him naked after they fall into an intense, sexless relationship, she notes that “his private parts were almost nonexistent, like what you might find on a premature baby.” His lack of masculinity makes him appear safe to her compared with other men, even as he moves into her apartment uninvited and comes and goes as he pleases, and as the story moves toward a hilariously unsettling conclusion it turns out he’s not as safe as he seems.
In some of these stories, the genre elements are a means to an end rather than the principal focus. In the alternate-timeline tale of “Hey, It’s a Love Psychedelic!,” the longest story here, the accounting of time travel mechanics is lightly sketched; Suzuki seems interested in it only insofar as it allows her to evoke the Japanese pop music scene of the late 1960s and early 1970s, seen both from the point of view of a young groupie and an older version of the same woman reflecting on her wayward past. If the story feels bloated, Suzuki and the translator (David Boyd, in this instance) nevertheless capture the strange beauty of the language of fannish subcultures, precise and deeply knowledgeable, impenetrable to the uninitiated but attractive enough to sometimes snare the curious.
Though cynicism pervades this collection, it isn’t absolute: In the final, title story, the relative harmony of a couple keeping a secret between themselves in a future surveillance state is a relief. A few other stories have a breezy, pulpy tone, among them “Softly, as in a Morning Sunrise,” a pastiche in which space travelers, harvesting exotic fauna from an unexplored alien planet, come across an abandoned baby in the wild that seems as human as themselves. But even the lighter works can sting a little: In “Trial Witch,” an ostensibly playful story about a housewife who’s granted magical powers of transformation — she turns cats into dogs, and shrinks the riders of a crowded train car to two inches tall to give herself more room — the protagonist mentions her husband hitting her in such a casual, affectless manner that it colors the entire narrative. Suzuki is not averse to escapism, so long as it is accompanied by the recognition that there is always something to escape.
Dexter Palmer is the author of “Mary Toft; or, the Rabbit Queen” and “Version Control.”
By Izumi Suzuki, translated by Sam Bett, David Boyd, Helen O’Horan and Daniel Joseph
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