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ZOO nominated for Shirley Jackson award!

We’ve been sitting on this all week, but now we can finally announce that Otsuichi’s ZOO has been nominated for Best Short Story Collection for this year’s Shirley Jackson award.

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Shirley Jackson needs no introduction, but the awards might. The Jacksons celebrate “the literature of psychological suspense, horror, and the dark fantastic,” but like the author for which they are named, the awards go far beyond “genre” norms. Jackson’s most famous short story, “The Lottery” was published first in The New Yorker to a tsunami of complaints about how horrid the tale was…and to more than a few letters from would-be lookie-loos requesting the location of the town where the annual lottery takes place—the story was so compelling that to many it seemed real.

(By the way, the answer is West Bennington, Vermont. See you there this summer!)

Otsuichi isn’t even the first Japanese writer to be so lauded. Last year literary author Yoko Ogawa won the category for her The Diving Pool, a collection of novellas, some of which had previously appeared in The New Yorker as well. (Check out Pregnancy Diary for some literary chills.) Will Ogawa serve as a bellwether for Otsuichi? I’d like to think so. As a short story lover, the decline of the form in the US is a sad state of affairs, but short subjects are booming in Japan, perhaps because most major publishers have both literary and commercial fiction magazines in which they cultivate new talent. (The commuter culture helps too, I suspect. A story is often one train trip’s length.) Can Superior Japanese Storytelling Technology in Translation defeat the rest of the world again?

I don’t know if our resident “strange one” will ever make the pages of The New Yorker or any other slick American magazine, but he’s been doing pretty well. In addition to the Jackson nod, two ZOO tales—”The White House in the Cold Forest” and In a Park at Twilight, a Long Time Ago received Honorable Mentions in Ellen Datlow’s annual best-of anthology, Best Horror of the Year, volume 2. Sweet!

In Japan, horror is summertime reading. Forget pumpkins and brown and orange leaves crunching under one’s feet, the dark stuff is associated with the blazing sun. Horror gives you chills after all, and that’ll serve to cool a reader down on a sultry Asian night. The Shirley Jackson award winners will be announced at Readercon in July, so maybe it’ll be a lucky time of year. And a win would be a great kick off for our next Otsuichi title, which…

ell, which you’ll see in stores just in time for the summer to end and Halloween season to begin.

The Stationmaster

We here at VIZ Media aren’t all manga, or all SF, all the time. Sometimes we publish novels that defy genre categories. One such is The Stationmaster by Jiro Asada. When I first read it, I was reminded of Shirley Jackson—some of Asada’s stories are supernatural, others straightforward realism. He’s by turns blunt and sentimental, intimate and journalistic. I asked Rebecca Downer, who edited this great short story collection for VIZ Fiction, to offer up a few words on a volume that’s called in its native country, “the book that made Japan cry.”

The Stationmaster cover
Jiro Asada’s stories in The Stationmaster are by no means epic in scope. Rather, they deal with very ordinary people, even very flawed people, who suddenly find their lives touched by the extraordinary. One could call these illuminating moments supernatural, or as the Japanese publisher tagged them, miracles. Whatever you call them, I think, in most of the stories, they are the product of the characters’ suffering. The stationmaster, for instance, in the title story, is experiencing the deepest anguish of his life. His station is about to close and his grief over the deaths of his wife and daughter is as sharp as though they just happened. Some benevolent force allows the old stationmaster relief in the form of his daughter, returning to him at the age she’d be if she’d lived. Perhaps it is a miracle; perhaps it is the old man’s own personal process of reconciling with his past—a sign he’s forgiving his past and letting himself move on. Whatever the case, it happened in that moment of deepest despair.

One of my favorite stories in the collection is “Devil.” There’s that kind of creeping dread that you find in the best of classic ghost stories, which turns out to be the perfect foil for this tale of the dissolution of a family, told as it is from a child’s point of view. The young boy who is both main character and narrator can’t really comprehend what is happening around him, and the story he invents to explain the events he is witnessing is both chilling and revealing.

In nearly all the stories it’s at that point of utter helplessness that a kind of protection for the character is conjured into being. Whether it’s a person—a ghost? a figment of the imagination?—or a story, a visit to the past, or a letter, Asada shows a deft hand in finding that ideal source of redemption, reconciliation, forgiveness, and forgetting, in each of his (not so?) ordinary characters’ lives. Sure, maybe they’re not epic, but the scope of human emotion the stories contain is pretty impressive.

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