Picnic in the Storm by Yukiko Motoya

Picnic in the Storm, also published as The Lonesome Bodybuilder, is a collection of 11 extremely weird tales. Yukiko Motoya imbues mundane settings with a sense of the surreal so that even a story about a saleswoman at a clothing shop who is trying to assist a customer who won’t come out of their changing room ends is far from ordinary. My first story in the collection, which happens to be my favorite, is called ‘The Lonesome Bodybuilder’ and follows a woman who decides to go to the gym in order to attain a bodybuilder type of physique. Her trainer warns her that bodybuilders are often misunderstood by their society but our narrator finds that her colleagues are extremely supportive. Her husband, on the other hand, does not seem to notice her, regardless of how big she gets. This story had a whimsical tone that worked really well with its subject matter.
Most of the other stories, however, were not as vibrant as this first one. Some of them were so short and similar that they ended up blurring together in my mind.

The longest story, which takes up nearly half of the collection, was a great combination of playful and grotesque. A newlywed woman becomes aware that some married women end up morphing into their spouses, their features, and mannerisms engulfed by their husband’s ones. I liked the subtle yet uneasy atmosphere in this story and the uncanny feeling it produced.

Most of these stories are dictated by an absurd logic, ordinary characters and their environments often morph into unfamiliar shapes, and Motoya succeeds in blending magical and realistic elements together. Many of the fantastical elements work as a metpahor for her to address a certain subject, and there seems to be a focus on married life. In spite of this, some of the stories were ultimately forgettable. One was rather gross, involving incest, and did not really add anything to the collection.
Still, I would happily read more by this author as this collection showcases both her inventiveness and playful style, which is exceedingly readable.

my rating: ★★★☆☆

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