Review: The Last Night of the Earth Poems, by Charles Bukowski

Three and a half stars.

A collection of poems from when Bukowski was an old man, and I’m talking up to his deathbed; he died of leukemia. Long gone are the grueling jobs to which he showed up hungover and that he tolerated by drinking the hours away. Long gone are the days when he returned late from work to find his apartment in a ruinous state and his seemingly interchangeable girlfriend of the day drunk and ranting. Old man Bukowski spent his last couple of decades living in peace with a probably very accommodating wife.

In a couple of poems he mentions that he’s ashamed of all the whoring and mayhem he indulged in up to his forties; he now feels like he had been controlled by an overwhelming force that even convinced him that he was in control, and that if he had known better, instead of searching for his next alcoholic girlfriend he would have spent far more time sleeping.

Some of the included poems are made of still images from Bukowski’s past as if they came randomly to his mind (you’ll recognize plenty of those moments if you’ve read his other books). Some recall how much of a fucking bastard his father was: he beat him and his wife regularly, and spent his days unreasonably angry. Some are related to how much dealing with fans and fan-adjacent people annoyed him. One mentions the gentle molestation that he suffered at the hands of a pretty female teacher of his, if “suffered” can be used given that he remarks enjoying the hardest hard-ons of any eleven-year-old kid in LA at the time. Another poem mentions that he acted like a drooling retard at school, because that way he hoped that people would leave him the fuck alone. Some despair at the state of the world and the increasingly ruinous society he found himself living in compared to how it used to be even during the Great Depression. Other poems thank the act of writing in itself for having allowed him to escape a life that felt like an unending nightmare.

Bukowski dreaded the possibility that any random person could approach him because they had read his books, and I can’t blame him: nothing anyone can say about the art you produce could approach what it means to you, and to an extent, it even devalues and banalizes it. But it went beyond that: some fans brought their entire damn families (“even the aunt”) to Bukowski’s house to introduce themselves, and later on he found out, thanks to the manuscripts he received in the mail, that those fans were aspiring writers that wanted help getting in the industry through him. Some of the fans seemed to believe that his alcoholic past (and to a much lesser extent, present) was part of a cool guy persona that Bukowski was trying to cultivate, instead of his escape from an unbearable reality. A wannabe journalist harassed him in the streets and figured out his landline number to sign him on to an obnoxious project (“I interview you and you interview me”). It all sounded infuriating.

As Charles (or Hank Chinaski, as he preferred to call himself; I’m guessing he hated being associated to his father’s last name) goes on at length in my favorite book of his, Ham on Rye, even as a child he wanted to sign off from the horrifying world he had found himself in (“I felt like sleeping for five years but they wouldn’t let me”). Only when he discovered great books, and therefore people he could respect, he found the solace he needed to endure for a bit longer. Once he figured out what writing could provide for him, he found the way to endure until the natural end of his journey.

Bukowski kept it real to the end; that’s a big part of why I’m usually up for reading his stuff even though I DNF most of the other books I come across. He didn’t write because he wanted to be famous, to make money, or to impress people; he wrote because it saved his life.

The most memorable moment for me in this collection of poems was one of the most memorable for Bukowski: he recalled a day back at his parents’ when his father must have run his mouth at someone stronger than his teenage son or his wife. Bukowski’s father was seated at the toilet, and his face was disfigured from the beating he had received. Bukowski stood at the doorway and merely stared at the son of a bitch who had fathered him. His father yelled at him something like, “What the hell are you looking at?!” Bukowski kept staring. A few seconds later, he walked away. Bukowski adds that three years after that moment, when he was sixteen, he knocked his father to the ground with a single punch. That same day he moved out, or became a drifter anyway. The moment was depicted in his novel Factotum.

Here are some fragments I highlighted (they were in poem format, but whatever):

We stop at a signal. I watch the red light. I could eat that red light–anything, anything at all to fill the void. Millions of dollars spent to create something more terrible than the actual lives of most living things; one should never have to pay an admission to hell.

[Writing] has saved my ass from the worst of women and the worst of men and the worst of jobs, it has mellowed my nightmares into a gentle sanity, it has loved me at my lowest and it has made me seem to be a greater soul than I ever was.

Young or old, good or bad, I don’t think anything dies as slow and as hard as a writer.

Review: Factotum, by Charles Bukowski

In this novel, Bukowski forces us to follow his alter ego Henry Chinaski, an alcoholic drifter whose personality can be summarized by the following quote from the book: “How in the hell could a man enjoy being awakened at 6:30 a.m. by an alarm clock, leap out of bed, dress, force-feed, shit, piss, brush teeth and hair, and fight traffic to get to a place where essentially you made lots of money for somebody else and were asked to be grateful for the opportunity to do so?”

For half of the book or so, Henry travels from place to place hoping to land any job that would allow him to pursue his two goals: getting drunk and fucking women. Through the protagonist we meet curious people and we learn some intricacies, as much as he needed to know to survive there, of the jobs that Henry landed and that usually lasted him less than a week before he quit or got fired.

Henry daydreamed briefly about becoming an author, and even wrote a few pieces, but above that he hoped that some wealthy woman would take pity on him and become his sugar mommy. At some later point he also hoped to land a Japanese wife because he considered that they have the wisdom of the ages or some shit. Henry failed to luck out; the two women who made repeated appearances were 1) a barfly who, along with two female friends of hers, had a sugar daddy of their own, an aging millionaire who alternated between paying the women to receive some affection and berating them for cheating on him; 2) a woman named Jan, the female version of our debauched protagonist. She drank about as much as he did, but cheated even more. Their relationship was reduced to Henry bringing home, if they were lucky, enough money to buy food and alcohol, then fucking while drunk. Jan is present throughout most of the story, yet for Henry she barely seems to matter more than someone who is home when he returns from work.

I’m guessing that this novel is mostly autobiographical. We are presented with accounts of the protagonist’s attempts at finding a job that will last, or that at least won’t make him wander off in the middle of his shift to get drunk at the nearest bar. We go through twenty-five or so of such experiences. Even the most memorable people from those microworlds end up disappearing as if Henry had never met them, and that transience extends to his personal life. People come and go; he can only rely on the pleasure and oblivion that either a bottle or sticking his dick in someone else provide.

If Henry had cared about his future or his well-being throughout the events depicted, the story would have been a harrowing nightmare in which a broken, alienated man can’t relate to people on a human level, and can only tolerate his responsibilities for about three or four days at a time before he self-destructs. In any case, the guy is a piece of shit who can’t help himself: he steals from his jobs, he cheats, he sort of rapes, he drags other people’s wives out of bed in front of the husbands and French-kisses the wives (only happened once, but it bothered me), casually murders, and plenty of other dubious stuff I’ve already forgotten.

The most memorable moment for me was the following, otherwise minor one: Henry had gotten off a bus somewhere during the height of his drifter period. He rents a room at some inn owned by a couple. The woman tells him that her husband is on his last legs, and Henry can hear him wheezing as the man struggles to breathe in a nearby room. The next morning, an attractive female guest, who had been told that Henry was some sort of writer, approaches the protagonist, informs him that the sick owner had died, and asks him to give her some money for some gift or a memorial. Henry informs her that he isn’t actually a writer, that the dead owner is none of his business, and that the living are the ones who need to be pitied, starting with Henry himself, so what she should do is strip down and offer him some affection. The woman, disgusted, turns around and leaves. The author describes how she walks to the end of that hallway, enters her room, and disappears from Henry’s life forever. And in a way the whole story is like that: he gets pressured with some societal demand (including the basic ones of having to earn enough money to keep existing), he clashes with people in usually self-destructive ways, then those people are gone only to be replaced by the next group of people who will quickly be gone as well, including the few ones that Henry would have preferred to keep around.

Bukowski was an honest guy, someone who saw clearly despite his boozing, and who managed to keep going in style despite the hopelessness of it all.

Review: GIGANT, by Hiroya Oku

This is a loose review of the entire series.

The main character of this tale (I wouldn’t dare call him the protagonist) is a sixteen-year-old high schooler that loves Western movies, that aspires to become a film director, and that is obsessed with a twenty-four-year-old half-Japanese, pink-haired, heavy-breasted porn actress who goes by a stupid artist name.

One day as he’s walking around in Tokyo, he comes across posted notices on which someone indicates that the porn actress lives nearby, which could lead a malicious person to harass her. The high schooler tears down the notices. The porn actress casually witnesses him doing so, and they strike up a friendship. Our main character can hardly wait to experience this gorgeous porn actress’ talents on his own flesh and dick, but she intends to put him in the friend zone. Besides, she has a boyfriend: an unstable gambler who beats her up when he remembers that other guys are fucking his girl. After they break up, our high-schooler main character and this big-breasted porn actress end up dating. Some people may have a problem with the fact that she’s twenty-four years old and he’s in high school, but the situation is far worse, because our main character is a toddler; the motherfucker threw a tantrum at a restaurant, bawling and all, until she agreed to date him. I have no clue what the author intended with that moment, but if he wanted the audience to lose all respect for the supposed main character, he achieved it.

Anyway, they work well as a couple: she’s motherly and loves to be needed, and he wants to screw as much as possible the most alluring woman to whom he has access.

Soon enough the tale delves into sci-fi: some weird guy is running around in his underwear while going on about some nonsensical stuff. Somehow he ends up getting struck by a truck. As he dies, he bequeaths to the porn actress a strange device that gets attached to her wrist, and she’s unable to remove it. Once the weird guy dies, he becomes a plush toy.

Our lovely porn actress figures out that the device allows her to become gigantic at will. At around the same time, a website named “Enjoy the End” grows popular: it lets users vote for what strange event they want to happen, and the most popular one becomes reality no matter how absurd: people start witnessing dragons and UFOs, and gigantic monsters descend from the sky to wreak havoc on Tokyo. The users of the website rejoice at the destruction that these manifestations are causing on the capital; most of the users seem to reside in the countryside. When they end up voting for a skyscraper-tall monster to reduce the population of Tokyo to one million, our porn actress decides to become the protagonist of this tale by turning gigantic and fighting the menace while naked (because the process of turning monstrously huge destroys her clothes, as well as anything else she happened to be in).

The story follows how Japanese society, then the rest of the world, reacts to the heroic deeds and growing cult status of the unlikely heroine who keeps exposing her monster-sized tits and genitals, and although the series becomes increasingly more ridiculous and absurd, this porn actress turned Godzilla-murderer remains brave and good-natured to an extent that warmed my black heart.

I don’t know if I can honestly recommend this series. I loved the graphic depictions of the big-boobed heroine, as well as how often she showed up naked. The fights are compellingly choreographed. This author has featured aliens in the three stories of his of which I’m aware: “Gantz” (I gave up halfway through when he killed off a main character, and I wasn’t enjoying it enough) and “Inuyashiki” [I appreciated the anime adaptation as well as its bold, violent nature, particularly the gun fingaz stuff (warning: disturbing)]. I wouldn’t be surprised if the author himself was an alien; he writes his human characters as if he’s only ever watched people from afar. However, I was most impressed with the quality of the drawings, which resemble renders based on photographs or 3D models, as well as with how balls-to-the-wall bonkers the whole thing is; I gotta admire the author for that. The two highlights that come to mind are the whole prolonged sequence involving a gargantuan Satan, and the two gigantic depictions of Socrates and Plato, who speak like teenage “Call of Duty” fanatics.

I had a good ol’ time reading this series. To be fair, I’d have a good time with pretty much anything that involves huge, meaty tits, so make of this review what you will.

Review: ‘Wanitokagegisu’ by Minoru Furuya

The title apparently translates to “Stomiiformes”, which is, according to Google, “an order of deep-sea ray-finned fishes”. This is the fourth series I’ve read of this author, after “Saltiness”“Ciguatera” and “Himizu”. Furuya has become my third favorite author after Shūzō Oshimi and Inio Asano, and this series is my third most favorite of his.

The tale follows a thirty-two-year-old ugly loner who has been working the night shift as a security guard at a supermarket for seven years. A single event defined his youth: during a class in which the students were ordered to hold hands, everybody made a point of avoiding to hold the protagonist’s. Afterward the teacher berated his classmates for being so hurtful, but some girls rebelled and yelled that they didn’t want to hold his hand because he was gross and creepy. As soon as the protagonist became an adult, he went out of his way to avoid people and live as quietly as possible. However, we are introduced to him the moment he fears that he’s missing out, that he’s letting his life pass by. He has made a habit of going to the roof of the building at which he works, getting undressed to his underwear and running laps, but that night, as his anxiety grows, he makes a childish wish to the universe: for someone to become his friend.

Recently he had noticed that someone was spying on him from the shadows of a nearby apartment building as the protagonist ran laps on the roof. On top of that, some sneaky bastard starts leaving notes to him that state that the protagonist is about to go crazy and die before the end of the year. So far the only positive development in his life is that he meets his next door neighbor, who is a beautiful, tall, big-breasted young woman who aspires to become a published writer.

This story contains all the elements of a classic Minoru Furuya tale: an outcast protagonist who has trouble relating to people properly and who experiences intrusive thoughts; some of such thoughts are incarnated into creatures (humans and wild animals in this series, otherworldly “demons” in the other stories); silly humor; unpredictable behaviors; hardcore sequences that should have traumatized the involved characters but that end up having few lasting consequences; secondary characters that impact the protagonist as they play their role, but that then disappear forever; and the sense that by opening yourself up to others or even interacting with them, you are courting disaster.

Through the protagonist we meet a homeless gambler who’s running from the Yakuza; a wired young man who is in love with (and stalks) a dangerous woman; a pea-brained, big-dicked security guard who dreams of becoming rich and popular; a sociopathic hikikomori who murdered his depressive, alcoholic father; a possibly schizoid security guard who has never opened up to others and that if he does he risks finding out the extent of how fucked up he is; a gang of thugs who steal cars; an aging pleasure seeker who’s looking for a way to break up with her murderous Yakuza lover, etc. In the middle of it all, our unfortunate protagonist attempts in his fumbling way to improve other people’s circumstances, even to his detriment.

Most fiction writers, men and women, tend to dump plenty of their own flaws into their protagonists, then they also create romantic interests for those protagonists that in real life wouldn’t even deign to look at them. It rarely bothers me; after all, real life is shit and we ought to escape from it as often as possible. However, I had a especially hard time believing that a beautiful, tall, big-breasted aspiring writer would be interested in this story’s protagonist, who is ugly, unkempt, lacks any interesting hobbies or talents, has few social skills, works a dead-end job, and has never even kissed a girl. I did, however, like the character of that aspiring writer (who does very little actual writing in the story) although I couldn’t believe in most of her motivations. Her relationship with the protagonist becomes the spine of this story right up to the end, so if you can’t buy into it, you may have an issue with this series.

I have come to this story after I finished reading Furuya’s “Himizu”, a mostly serious work in which the author seemed like he was restraining himself from breaking into silliness. I much prefer the demented interactions between his characters that somewhat often end up involving sexual references and/or exhibitionism.

I’ve felt a kinship with this author ever since I started reading “Saltiness”, that remains my favorite series of his. In this story I’m reviewing, the author comments through his protagonist that he feels that his brain lacks something that would allow him to relate to other human beings as it seemingly comes easily to most other people, so naturally I suspect that he may also be autistic and in addition have OCD due to how often he depicts intrusive thoughts in his protagonists, who are often arguing with mental ghosts. So if you want to experience what a nightmare existing in such brains can be, I guess you could do much worse than going through this author’s works.

Review: Himizu, by Minoru Furuya

Minoru Furuya has become my third most favorite manga author after Shūzō Oshimi and Inio Asano, thanks to his series ‘Saltiness’ and ‘Ciguatera’. His stories follow underdogs whose mental peculiarities (OCD and autism are the most likely culprits for me) and shitty luck prevent them from realistically aspiring to anything better than an average life. The author consistently represents, in the three series of his that I’ve read, intrusive thoughts as strange, sometimes demonic entities that stalk the protagonist; I ended up doing the same thing for a novel of mine even before I knew about Furuya’s works, so this must be a result of how certain types of brains operate.

Anyway, the protagonist of this bleak series (by far the most humorless of the three) lives at a shack that also functions as a boat shop. It belongs to his father, but the old man bailed on his family to become a drunkard and a gambler. Now his teenage son has to run the business, because his mother is focused on finding a new husband.

The protagonist is fed up with life from the moment we are introduced to him. As he mentions a few times throughout the story, he knows he came from garbage and that he’s little more than a defective idiot. He tries to regulate his thoughts and actions so he won’t stray from the path that may lead him to live a regular, mediocre life, and he holds a grudge towards anyone who dares to pursue lofty dreams, as he believes that those people are delusional and blind to the fact that they are doomed to fall. He wishes to struggle and perform some grandiose good deed that would justify his existence, but he fears that as a broken person coming from a ruinous family, his destiny has already been decided.

One day his mother elopes with her new lover, never to be seen again. Our protagonist, deprived of parental support, decides to quit going to school and just runs his father’s boat shop. Soon enough, though, he comes to learn through a couple of Yakuza types that visit the boat shop that his father’s debts may become the protagonist’s responsibility as well.

As interesting characters other than the main guy we have the following: the protagonist’s only friend, an ugly, short, nearly toothless kleptomaniac who nevertheless isn’t as cursed as the protagonist because he doesn’t have the same perennially bleak outlook on life; an aspiring manga author who works as a counterbalance to the protagonist with his determined work ethic and confidence in his talent; and a reserved but tough female classmate of the protagonist who is attracted to him for some reason, and who wants to improve his miserable life.

This author’s characters, in the three series I’ve read of his, can often surprise you with their unpredictability. Some writers warn against using “and then” plot points; they suggest that every plot point must be a “but” or “therefore” regarding one or more plot points that came before. However, this author includes some sequences or scenes that in many stories would have long-lasting repercussions or be pivotal to the development of the plot, but in these stories life just goes on, or the important people fail to ever find out that the event happened. To put an extreme example, in one of the three series (won’t say in which), some secondary characters rape one of the main characters, but none of the main characters, including the victim, ever find out about it. On the topic of rape, there’s plenty of strange and/or sudden sexual stuff going on in this author’s works, even as mild as a character suddenly pulling his or her pants down, or fingering someone else. The violence included can often be equally sudden.

They made a live-action version of this story. Here’s the trailer. I haven’t watched the movie yet; apparently the director intended to follow the manga faithfully until the whole tsunami and nuclear disaster of 2011 happened, so they included that in to offer some commentary and a more hopeful message than what this series supports. So far I can tell they made at least one change I consider questionable: in the manga the protagonist’s father was constantly in a drunken daze, but he was never overtly cruel nor dismissive towards his son; the protagonist despised his father because he abandoned his family, and after that point there was nothing the old man could have done to improve their relationship.

It’s a shame that I have already read the three series generally considered this author’s best.

Review: Thermae Romae, by Mari Yamazaki

The postface the author wrote for each volume of this series is titled ‘Rome & baths, the loves of my life,’ and it shows. She clearly had a blast producing this manga, which gave her the opportunity to immerse herself in those two obsessions for years.

It’s an isekai (for the uncultured swine among you, that’s a genre tremendously popular in Japan that usually consists in a Japanese person getting transported somehow, usually by truck-related means, to a fantasy world that more often than not is loosely based on Europe during the Age of Enlightenment but with cute elves and such. There are exceptions, though, as in the case of this story). The protagonist, an architect/engineer from the Roman Empire, gets inexplicably transported via increasingly contrived plot devices to contemporary Japan, from the seventies up to the modern day. He would love nothing more than to serve Rome well and cleanse the worries and pains of the population through the baths he gets hired to build, and when he gets teleported to Japan, he discovers a previously unknown race, to which he constantly refers with an ethnic slur, who appreciate baths even more than Roman citizens do. Most of the story is therefore about this Roman engineer figuring out how to take advantage of Japanese customs and inventions so he can improve his homeland, even though he can’t understand a single word that comes out of their mouths.

We go through the expected hijinks and more, but the story quickly turns serious as powerful people take note of the protagonist’s talents: the emperor Hadrian ends up becoming one of the main characters, and we also follow Marcus Aurelius from time to time, a teen during the events of the story; history ended up remembering Marcus Aurelius as a stoic philosopher due to his ‘Meditations’ and his wise rule.

It’s a shame that this manga isn’t well-known; I had no clue it existed until Netflix of all places released the trailer for its upcoming anime. The only thing that bothered me about this series is that the way the protagonist gets transported to Japan and back kept getting increasingly ridiculous and convenient, as the situation that the protagonist faced was almost always related to some problem he needed to solve at home, but if you accept like he did eventually that some Roman goddess (mainly Diana) wanted to use him for the glory of Rome, you can roll with it. Other than that, the author has a great sense of humor, the attention to detail and the research that went into it are typically Japanese, and I had a blast throughout. If you love both Japan and ancient Rome about as much as I do, you probably owe it to yourself to read this manga.

Review: The Hour of the Star, by Clarice Lispector

From time to time I get reminded of authors that seem cool enough, and I tell myself that I’ll finally go through the effort of reading something of theirs. I hadn’t opened any of Lispector’s books yet, but I had formed an image of her as wild and unfettered. I imagined her bedridden during the last years of her life as she dictated new stories to her secretary, who would then type them carefully on a typewriter. I don’t know if I got that impression from something I read about Lispector or if I made it up in some daydream, but it makes no difference whether it happened or not. Lispector died of cancer in 1977, eight years before I was born; she has become definite enough that whatever delusion I prefer to believe about her won’t diminish who she was.

‘The Hour of the Star’ is the last book that Clarice Lispector published in life, and in it you witness an author trying to conceive a story for a character that she was compelled to bring to life: a poor, ugly, innocent girl from the same impoverished region of Brazil where Lispector lived as a child. She transformed herself into a male narrator with fictional circumstances, to develop the details of the protagonist and the world around her so the entire narrative would finally spring to life.

This girl we are following, named Macabéa, lost her parents, came to a big enough city to live with her repressed aunt, now lives in a hovel with four roommates with whom she doesn’t seem to interact, and works as a typist although she’s terrible at it. Lispector describes her as too innocent, inexperienced and dull-witted to be miserable despite her nasty circumstances. She can only look forward to the joys she can reach: food and songs she likes, and being alone at home for a few hours. She daydreams about finding a man who would love her, but she knows that can’t happen.

The most memorable secondary character was the idiotic thug that ends up dating Macabéa, a young guy who calls himself Olímpico and who came to the city from the same impoverished region as Macabéa. The guy is fascinated by implements of violence, and his main goals are to seem tough and move up in the world. He mistreats Macabéa and attempts to silence her if she shares some thought he considers unladylike. I wished that Macabéa would acquire some self-respect and dump that shithead, but the poor girl was happy enough that someone spent time interacting with her.

We also meet one of Macabéa’s coworkers, who is painted as a poor man’s sophisticated, buxom woman. I recall vaguely that she initially criticized the protagonist for her many faults, but she grew to pity her, which I guess is better. We also meet a doctor who can’t wait to have enough money so he can quit and devote himself to doing nothing, as well as, in the final sequence of the story, a former prostitute turned clairvoyant who offers a compelling monologue.

Because Lispector came up with seemingly every little aspect of this novel in front of our eyes, Macabéa as well as other characters come off as contradictory, but you have to roll with it; Lispector didn’t have enough time left to make it consistent even if she intended to. She also complains about having to invent enough description, and I recall that she suggested that she just intended to write down what was necessary and then go to sleep.

On the surface, the story is about Macabéa figuring out who she is and who she would prefer to become, but the insights that Lispector offers through her chosen narrator suggest that this whole book is about the author coming to terms with her impending death: trying to understand why she would need to write about this Macabéa, or write at all, so close to her own demise; what does it mean for a writer to live through these characters that inhabit our minds; and what kind of hope the author can offer to this wrecked fictional child of hers (I know well how traumatizing it can be to ruin the life of one of your characters; I haven’t gotten over at least one of them).

Lispector writes from the gut; pure subconscious stuff that half of the time she herself can’t understand. That’s the kind of material I want both in the books I read and in the stories I create. I can’t stand authors that intellectualize everything, who often oppose their own tastes and impulses out of some weird ideological dislike for such. Their texts most of the time annoy the hell out of me. I also vibed with Lispector’s silly humor, and in general felt a kinship with her. Hers is the first novel that I’ve finished in a long while; these days I have little time and energy left to read, and when I do I end up DNF-ing most of the books I start, often because they test my patience.

Lispector was a unique writer (or at least she seemed like that to me; I haven’t read any other Brazilian writers, so maybe they all write like her) who wrote in search of her own personal truths, in contrast with your average bastardly author out there that seeks to deceive you as they deceive themselves.

Anyway, I got plenty of quotes out of this book:

Who has not asked himself at some time or other: am I a monster or is this what it means to be a person?

I only achieve simplicity with enormous effort.

I write because I have nothing better to do in this world: I am superfluous and last in the world of men. I write because I am desperate and weary. I can no longer bear the routine of my existence and, were it not for the constant novelty of writing, I should die symbolically each day.

In no sense an intellectual, I write with my body. And what I write is like a dank haze. The words are sounds transfused with shadows that intersect unevenly, stalactites, woven lace, transposed organ music. I can scarcely invoke the words to describe this pattern, vibrant and rich, morbid and obscure, its counterpoint the deep bass of sorrow.

I feel happier with animals than with people. When I watch my horse cantering freely across the fields— I am tempted to put my head against his soft, vigorous neck and narrate the story of my life. When I stroke my dog on the head — I know that he doesn’t expect me to make sense or explain myself.

Speaking for myself, I am only true when I’m alone. As a child, I always feared that I was about to fall off the face of the earth at any minute. Why do the clouds keep afloat when everything else drops to the ground? The explanation is simple: the gravity is less than the force of air that sustains the clouds. Clever, don’t you think? Yes, but sooner or later they fall in the form of rain. That is my revenge.

She had what’s known as inner life and didn’t know it. She lived off herself as if eating her own entrails. When she went to work she looked like a gentle lunatic because as the bus went along she daydreamed in loud and dazzling dreams.

She herself asked for nothing, but her sex made its demands like a sunflower germinating in a tomb.

I shall do everything possible to see that she doesn’t die. But I feel such an urge to put her to sleep then go off to sleep myself.

I must ask, without knowing whom I should ask, if it is really necessary to love the man who slays me; to ask who among you is slaying me. My life, stronger than myself, replies that it wants revenge at all costs. It warns me that I must struggle like someone drowning, even if I should perish in the end. If it be so, so be it.

I use myself as a form of knowledge. I know you through and through, by means of an incantation that comes from me to you. To stretch out savagely while an inflexible geometry vibrates behind everything.

That not-knowing might seem awful but it’s not that bad because she knew lots of things in the way nobody teaches a dog to wag his tail or a person to feel hungry; you’re born and you just know. Just as nobody one day would teach her how to die: yet she’d surely die one day as if she’d learned the starring role by heart. For at the hour of death a person becomes a shining movie star, it’s everyone’s moment of glory and it’s when as in choral chanting you hear the whooshing shrieks.

Review: My Wandering Warrior Existence, by Kabi Nagata

This is the newest entry in the series of autobiographical mangas that started with the cult hit ‘My Lesbian Experience with Loneliness’ and that followed with ‘My Solo Exchange Diary Vol. 1’‘My Solo Exchange Diary Vol. 2’ and ‘My Alcoholic Escape from Reality’ (the links go to my reviews of those titles).

I’ve been fond of the author ever since I read her first autobiographical manga, and not only because her stuff is like witnessing a colossal train wreck; she’s fearlessly honest about her brokenness to an extent that you don’t see in virtually anyone else.

In the previous entry, Kabi Nagata opened up about having caused herself acute pancreatitis due to imbibing in three years the amount of alcohol that seasoned boozers rarely achieve in twenty. She almost died, and she’ll be forced to take medication for the rest of her life. I was eager to figure out how she recovered mentally from that self-inflicted ordeal, but in this newest entry she speaks casually about her liberal alcoholic intake and mentions that she moved out to her own apartment. I realized, to my disappointment slash dismay, that the events depicted on this entry are precursory to her alcoholic debacle. She was likely working on this manga when she was forced to sidetrack it to suffer through that personal catastrophe. That’s fucking sad; the previous entry ended with her waking up from a prolonged nightmare to find herself as a mentally and physically broken woman in her mid-to-late thirties that nobody wants to or can love.

Anyway, this newest manga starts with Kabi wanting to do a photoshoot of herself wearing a wedding dress; she’s aware that she’ll likely never marry, and her mother had expressed a desire to see her in a wedding dress, so that’s what she does. During the shoot, though, Kabi grows increasingly depressed as she realizes how sad the whole thing (and her life) has become, although her mother is loving it; she’s taking photos of her own with her personal camera.

Afterwards, Kabi decides to embark on a personal quest to find someone who might love her. We realize (or remember; she probably exhibited this in previous entries), through her fumbling attempts at using a dating website, how terribly inept she’s at dealing with technology, which has furthered her isolation. She speaks at length about her confusion regarding love, even understanding what it’s supposed to be; her parents are together because of an arranged marriage that involved no love at all, and they behaved, for the most part, just dutifully towards their only daughter. Kabi was a withdrawn, fearful, friendless child. I think that she was in her late twenties when she finally decided to experience some close contact with another human being by hiring the services of a prostitute. In fact, she has only been intimate with prostitutes (maybe only that first one, I don’t remember) to this day.

Kabi goes at length about her fears and confusion regarding the process of finding a date, but never ventures beyond creating a profile on a dating website. In the most memorable chapter of this manga, she writes a self-deprecating bio, opening up about her mental issues and her inability to live by herself, because “that way whoever tries to date me won’t be disappointed once they get to know me.” When she receives some likes and personal messages, Kabi is appalled. Who could be so crazy as to want to engage with her despite how much of a broken mess her bio reveals her to be? She considers that maybe she should improve the honesty of her presentation. She turns her bio into a parade of self-disdain, painting herself as the most horrid, incompetent human to ever exist (which she pretty much believes herself to be). She says that she’s distrustful of anyone who seems to like her, because she doesn’t believe such a thing could be possible, so those people must be trying to take advantage of her. She still gets likes and personal messages that she never dares to check out. Eventually she removes her profile and drops her quest. Later on she figures out that those that contacted her were the types that thought, “she’s so horrible that I may have a chance!” so she was better off avoiding them anyway.

She spends the rest of this manga wondering how come she’s so broken, why she fears human beings to such an extent, even those she’s come to know reasonably well, and why she’s unable to understand other people’s motives. She opens up about her issues regarding gender identity: she doesn’t like being a woman (“I don’t like breasts, bras or periods, and I wear men’s underwear”), but she doesn’t want to be a man. She admits that she isn’t even sure if she’s a lesbian (to be fair, despite the title of her first autobiographical manga, ‘My Lesbian Experience with Loneliness’, her being a lesbian was incidental there); she considers that maybe she chose to visit lesbian prostitutes because she’s more comfortable among women, but that it may not speak much about her sexual preferences.

She opens up about a sexual assault back when she was a child; the first time she mentions it. A guy in his twenties approached her kid self, led her to a deserted hallway and fondled her genitals. It traumatized her, and she became more fearful of human beings (but she mentions that she also came to consider herself an idiot for following this stranger). However, she seemed even more distraught at the consequences: when she opened up to her mother about the assault, she contacted the school, which made a point of informing pretty much everybody. A teacher chastised Kabi for following a stranger. Other children whispered about Kabi as “the girl who was assaulted by a pervert.” Kabi wishes she had kept it to herself.

She quickly dismisses that sexual assault, though, as the source of her issues; she has known other women who were sexually assaulted, even much worse, but they grew up into happy adults who got married and had children. So how come she’s so fucked up?

An inability to understand herself and others properly, gender issues, sexual issues, fear of humans, only comfortable in solitude, sensory issues (she mentions how one of the main reasons to leave her parents’ apartment, apart from the depressive, loveless atmosphere, was that their voices sounded shrill), plenty of executive dysfunction (she can’t organize her own life for shit). Bitch, you are clearly autistic. Or maybe I’m delusional.

She renders the letter that some nice stranger wrote to her regarding love, and she comes to understand that years ago, when a fan who had realized she herself was a lesbian approached Kabi wishing to date her (Kabi found her nice, but didn’t feel a spark), the author may have fucked up turning her away, because if they had come to spend more time together, it may have turned into a proper, loving relationship. But by the end of the manga, Kabi admits that she’s quite comfortable alone, so maybe she’s just envious of loving couples, and sad that she may never know the love that most other human beings seem entitled to experience.

I enjoyed this newest entry of Kabi’s descent into madness, that unfortunately will likely end in her death through self-neglect or suicide, but it left a worse taste in my mouth than usual; I know that not only Kabi gave up on her quest to find love, but she fell deeper and deeper into alcoholism to the extent that she nearly died, and the last we know of her is that she wishes she would disappear, because she’s sick of being a mentally and now physically broken creature who feels like she has no place in this world.

Review: Ciguatera, by Minoru Furuya

Four and a half stars, rounded up.

I first came across this author when I read his ‘Saltiness’, that became my surprise hit of the season. Then I realized that one of the series I had passed up on often was also his; many had mentioned his ‘Ciguatera’ on those long lists of “best manga ever”. However, I had ignored it because all the mentions emphasized how much the protagonist cared about motorcycles, and I don’t give a shit about motorcycles. However, the subject of motorcycles could have been substituted here for any other passion that would align with someone’s instincts to the extent that indulging in it would help the person escape from the nonsense that life hurls around.

This story is a slice-of-life / Bildungsroman that follows an unpopular, somewhat unhinged high school kid who isn’t intelligent enough nor talented enough at anything to stand out. He also seems to be as tall as the average girl. As if that life set up for mediocrity wasn’t bad enough, both the protagonist and his best friend are regularly tortured by a local psychopath that some in general terms would call a bully. That guy is the run-of-the-mill psychopathic type that only finds pleasure in abusing others, and it comes naturally and cheerfully to him. The protagonist and his pal understand that they have no choice but endure being the target of that bastard’s whims, and they figure that once they graduate they won’t have to deal with him anymore. The two friends bond over their mutual love of motorcycles, as it allows them to imagine themselves riding into the sunset away from their miserable lives.

A minor spoiler is inevitable: the entire story ends up revolving around the relationship between the protagonist and the girl he starts dating maybe in the first volume. In contrast with many other fictional relationships, particularly at that age, the protagonist is constantly worrying about the future: he has realized that he loves this girl to death, that if she ends up getting sick of his sorry ass and moves on, he’ll eagerly welcome his own demise. He wants to become a dependable man, a well-adjusted member of society, even if he has to work hard to change himself in the process. I thought it was a realistic depiction of what someone with low self-esteem goes through when having to measure up to the person he loves, with all the anxiety and sleepless nights that involves.

I really liked the girlfriend character, but my main complaint throughout this story was that she simply was too good for him. She’s beautiful; has lovely tits; is kind, accommodating and understanding; and it doesn’t bother her that she has more resources than him. As a girlfriend, she’s ideal, so this reeked to me of wish fulfillment. Often I would be on board with that, but not in a story that revolves around how complicated it can get to sustain a normal relationship when life keeps throwing so much shit at you; most other girls would have broken up quite early. The ending, that I’ve read a couple of hours ago, changed my impression of her character, but it’s too soon for me to articulate my feelings on the subject beyond mentioning that it made an impact on me.

Plenty of weird, often episodic stuff happens in this series. Four distinct sequences end in very disturbing stuff that would have potentially scarred the people involved for years to come, but one of the mirrored points of this story is the sense that no matter how terrifying or disturbing the nonsense that life forces you to endure, and that you believe you won’t get over, somehow you adapt and keep shuffling forward.

This series left me cold and unsettled because it illustrated how that lesson also applies to your personal passions or the most important people in your life: even if you can’t imagine yourself existing without them, you wake up some other day and discover that you can keep putting one foot in front of the other, for good or ill.

I vibe with this author’s sense of humor, the odd stuff he comes up with, and how he makes you feel as if you are right there along with the characters as they experience their little lives. I hope to read everything else this guy has made.

Review: Saltiness, by Minoru Furuya

Behind this unassuming title, I ended up finding the closest thing to a manga masterpiece in a good while.

Our protagonist is deranged a guy in his thirties who lives with his younger sister and their grandfather. They are stuck in the boonies. This is another one of those Japanese stories in which people either live in an isolated town or in Tokyo. Anyway, we quickly realize that our guy isn’t quite right in the head, but it’s never clear if his strange hallucinations are due to intrusive daydreaming or schizophrenic hallucinations. I’d say he’s closer to autistic.

He lives a carefree life of contemplation as the town loon, until his grandfather approaches him to open up about his worries: the protagonist’s sister is an attractive, well-liked local teacher, but she’s quickly approaching thirty and she hasn’t bothered to date anyone. Although our guy has a hard time grasping mundane facts, he can’t deny that he’s at fault. His sister’s kind nature prevents her from focusing on herself instead of making sure that her brother returns home after another afternoon skinny-dipping in the woods. The protagonist’s love for his little sister has been his main drive ever since they were both children (and once we learn later on about their ruinous childhood and what this guy struggled through to keep his sister going, it’s no wonder they became so close).

He realizes that he’ll cause his sister to feel lonely for the rest of her life because she needs to take care of his deranged ass, so he leaves for Tokyo at once. He suddenly finds himself homeless and hungry. Armed with the social abilities of a particularly screwed child, he goes door to door asking to be fed out of the kindness of their hearts.

What follows is a bizarre, unpredictable tale that features a cast of mostly broken outcasts, held together by the protagonist’s boundless willingless to understand people and life itself. Far from a zen-like master, this guy kept surprising me not only with his unpredictability (the shit that came out of his mouth, his casual threats, turning into a sobbing mess because he hurt someone’s feelings), but with how human and vulnerable he remained throughout.

For someone who dislikes humanity as much as I do, it’s rare to finish a manga and feel glad to have met the people within it. A shame that I can barely find anything about this series online, and its abysmal rating on Goodreads is another proof of how stupid everyone has become.

For whatever reason, the following sentences uttered tenderly by the protagonist (to a mentalist who wanted to build a cheese empire) ended up synthesizing this story to me:

“According to the standards of society, [my sister] is a beautiful woman. Not long ago, she still believed in Santa Claus. But now she’s able to impress me with words such as monotheism and polytheism.”