Still Life and Other Stories
A stunning tapestry of everyday life.
A young man, having failed his college entrance exams, becomes obsessed with a family card game. A businessman stays overnight at an inn and drinks with the innkeeper. A family parakeet seems to be dead but then climbs back on its perch.
The thirteen stories in the collection by Japanese writer Junzo Shono are linked by the daily life of a husband and wife and their children. The stories are like the back of a tapestry where threads seem to cross randomly. Births, weddings, school activities, a suicide attempt—all occur out of view. Readers understand crucial events through ordinary days.
But these quiet, modern tales have a cumulative power. Toys, birds, and playing cards relate to human lives as portents, parallels, parodies. The mother, with her secret sorrows, and the puzzled, bemused father savor reveries and survive unexplained misfortunes. Shono’s vivid “snapshot” technique, the layering of images, events, and conversations, creates an effect Western readers may find more akin to an Ozu film crossed with haiku than to traditional short stories.
As Shono describes the mystery and sensuality of the everyday, readers come to feel, with the father in the stories, that not enough attention has been paid the little things that make up our lives. Thornton Wilder wrote in Our Town: “So all that was going on, and we didn’t even notice.” Shono makes us notice—and an inconclusive final note keeps us listening beyond the end of each story.
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"Shono is one of the leading writers of postwar Japan, a master of simplicity and subtlety. The placid surfaces of his stories conceal a painful uncertainty about contemporary Japanese life. Lammers’s sensitive translations convey both the pain and the placidity with moving clarity."
—Van C. Gessel, Professor of Japanese, Brigham Young University
"Junzo Shono describes domestic scenes with airy sophistication and charm. Almost diary-like, his stories flow with “a sweet attractive kind of grace,” to borrow Matthew Royden’s words. Begin any of his narratives, and you become Junzo Shono, an amused observer of daily occurrences. Wayne Lammers’s translations recreate Shono’s unique voice with natural precision. Reading Lammers is reading Shono."
—Hiroaki Sato, author of Forty-Seven Samurai: A Tale of Vengeance and Death