Rowan Hisayo Buchanan

Författare till Harmless Like You

6+ verk 323 medlemmar 6 recensioner

Verk av Rowan Hisayo Buchanan

Harmless Like You (2016) 177 exemplar
Starling Days (2019) 68 exemplar
Go Home! (2018) — Redaktör; Bidragsgivare — 56 exemplar
The Sleep Watcher (2023) 8 exemplar

Associerade verk

How Much the Heart Can Hold: Seven Stories on Love (2016) — Bidragsgivare — 27 exemplar
Fairy Tale Review: The Translucent Issue #13 (2017) — Bidragsgivare — 2 exemplar


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A young woman, Kit, uses this book to addresses her lover to explain how her teenage self has made her who she is. She lived with her parents and younger brother in an unnamed seaside town in southern England and became prone to out-of-body nighttime wanderings as she slept. This device should have had nm slamming the book shut, never to open it again, but it worked. Able to travel round the town at will, she witnesses her parents in private moments and realises their relationship is increasingly fragile, her father not the happy-go-lucky man she thought she knew. She's also exploring her own sexuality with her closest school friend, Andrew. The satisfaction of reading this book lies in the evocation in just a few phrases of her home town, her teenage companions, her family, and the things they did. Her conflicting feelings about her parents - especially her father - whom she thought she knew are well portrayed. Kit is a convincing, if enigmatic character. An intriguing read.… (mer)
Margaret09 | Apr 15, 2024 |
The descriptive writing in this novel is so well done. The relationships are rendered in unique, intimate detail. The main character's struggle with mental health and its impact on her marriage is sincere and detailed. My review isn't doing it justice- finely written.
HelenGress | Dec 20, 2021 |
What makes a person an artist? What motivates a young woman to become one? How much does a sense of being on the periphery--on the outside looking in, so to speak--have to do with it? Does one gain identity through making art, or is a strong sense of self a prerequisite for making it? Is an artist's (or would-be artist's) personal identity generally stronger or weaker than than that of a person without artistic ambitions? Can you be a visual artist if you are not particularly observant or aware? These are some of the many questions Rowan Hisayo Buchanan's debut novel raised for me.

HARMLESS LIKE YOU begins in Berlin. Brooklyn art dealer and gallery owner, Jay Eaves, has traveled there to notify aging artist Yukiko "Yuki" Oyama that her husband Edison Eaves has recently died and left Yuki the house in Connecticut. (Kindness can kill a person. Edison swerved to avoid killing a deer and lost his own life--but Jay leaves this detail out.) Yuki just needs to sign for the deeds. Jay will facilitate the sale of the house, should she desire that. But where is her son? Yukiko asks him. Jay, it turns out, is that son, and this is their first meeting in the 33 years since Yuki fled the family home.

HARMLESS LIKE YOU proceeds to tell, in alternating segments, the backstories of Yuki and her son. Yuki's narrative is the main one. It unfolds in the detached third person, beginning when she is sixteen. Jay's sections, which are shorter, are told in the first person and focus on the months leading up to his trip to Berlin, including the birth of his daughter and his father's accidental death. The author's decisions about point of view are telling. Both characters are remarkably unlikable, but Jay at least appears to have a self to speak from; Yuki, maybe not.

When Yuki's story proper begins, she has been living in New York for ten years with her parents. Her father is a rather stern Japanese-American businessman who, having spent part of his Second-World-War childhood in a Japanese-American internment camp, now identifies as Japanese, not American. Her mother is a traditional Japanese homemaker. The war has left its mark on her as well; she appears to suffer from PTSD. Yuki attends an American high school where she is a friendless, indifferent student. Her father hopes that she will become a doctor, but she dreams of being a visual artist, an idea which horrifies her parents. Through works of art, she believes, she can leave a lasting record of herself. "People would look at them and recognize not her flat face or limp hair, but her true self, the Yuki behind the pupils. The Yuki who was the see-er not the seen." ( p. 170) She has to downplay this goal in order to get her father to let her stay on in America when his company calls him back to Japan.

Early sections of the novel focus on Yuki's strange relationship with the amoral Odile, who is rumoured to have been expelled from a ballet school after an affair with a teacher. Odile "befriends" Yuki on a fire escape where both outcasts seek refuge during lunch break at school. She quickly introduces Yuki to her favourite pastime: happy-hour pickup and pickpocketing at local bars. On one of these outings, both girls meet males who will be pivotal in their lives. One will encourage Odile to pursue a modelling career (at a price); the other will, apparently selflessly, encourage Yuki in her art. For a time, Yuki lives with Odile and her mother, Lillian, a writer of cheesy romances. After Odile leaves home for a modelling career, however, Yuki quits school to work as a receptionist at a newspaper, eventually moving in with an older, abusive newspaper journalist (Lillian's boyfriend). The author dedicates considerable time to exploring this classic domestic abuse situation and Yuki 's efforts at making art in the midst of it. Yuki will go on to marry her kind friend, Edison (a successful architect), but it is not so much the stereotypical married life in the suburbs that oppresses her as Yuki's own internal dysfunction-- exacerbated by post-partum depression. She cannot thrive in a supportive environment.

Buchanan's novel is an unusual concoction. The cover image alone (a fairly conventional portrait of a young Asian girl whose eyes are obscured by a splotch of indigo paint) suggests that the reader will encounter a protagonist who feels herself to be anonymous, a nonentity. The angry streak of dark paint across an otherwise orderly painting also hints at the disruptive, even violent, impulse to self-sabotage that characterizes the central figure. In short, HARMLESS LIKE YOU reads like A PORTRAIT OF THE (FAILED) ARTIST AS A DEPRESSED YOUNG WOMAN. Though rich and well-written with much to puzzle over, Buchanan's novel is unrelentingly sordid and bleak.

Towards the end of the book when Jay is reunited with his mother in Berlin, the two bond in an extremely disturbing scene that involves small animals. That scene and much of the imagery employed by the author made this book an uncomfortable read for me. Early in the novel, Yuki attends an art exhibit which includes an installation comprised of a pile of dirt, leaves, and worms glistening under the white lights. The worms turn out not to be earthworms, but maggots "the colour of smokers' eyeballs: yellow-white and glossy with a sick sort of life." (page 70) The daytime sky is once described as "mucus yellow"; a pastrami sandwich "oozes cheese like pus," and sex is always a four-letter word. I could go on . . .

Although I found the novel slow to get started and the characters unsympathetic and even repellant, the writing in HARMLESS LIKE YOU is assured and the story is interesting. Having said that, I cannot recommend the novel, which is a long ways from Keats's "thing of beauty" and "a joy forever". I know life is not all "sweetness and light" but this was a little too dark for my tastes.
… (mer)
fountainoverflows | 3 andra recensioner | Dec 29, 2019 |


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