May 29th, 2003


Hiromi Goto, The Kappa Child

I started The Kappa Child immediately after I finished Crowley's The Translator, and have found some odd congruencies. Both books jump back and forth in time, both have an unexpected pregnancy, both have a lot of eggs of various types, though only in Goto's book do eggs talk.

A quick summary: The Kappa Child was last year's Tiptree Award winner. Goto is a Canadian writer of Japanese descent, both of which are evident in the novel. The plot follows a first-person narrator through a strange pregnancy and the eating of lots of Japanese cucumbers (which were the main element of her Tiptree ceremony song, incidentally). Other characters are her ambitious and abusive father, seemingly beleagured mother, her three oddly-nicknamed sisters, and her two friends Midori and Genevieve.

As I'd expected, Goto's prose is literary magazine-flavored, more so than most genre fiction, if this book can be called genre. I think it's better classified as magical realism, because the non-realistic elements, namely the Kappa child itself and the occasion of its origin pass by unremarked as "normal" weirdness. That is, the first person narrator knows and says weird things have happened, but at the time she accepts them fully. The reader is expected to simply accept them, too.

The narrator's family is bizarre in a way that seems realistic to me, especially the domestic abuse and its results, or perhaps because of that gritty element. The narrator's friends, her job, her van, and her personal clothing style all have that uniqueness than normally only real people have. Or maybe those on television. I could see this book as a series on some cable network (if I had cable or had ever seen "Six Feet Under" or "Sex and the City").

Also, I just love the small and tidy shape of the book itself. It's smaller than most trade paperbacks, but larger and more slender than a mass market. The cover has a Kappa overlaid in shiny ink that one can only see at certain angles. It's nifty!

Has anybody else read this book yet?

Kinsale on novels

"...writing a book is not like driving a car. You don't get in, turn the key, push the gas pedal and steer it where you want it to go. It's more like riding a horse - it is a give-and-take with another living entity. Every horse is different, and every character is different (hopefully). So the writer has to get to know this beast, and that is just a process. For me, I can't do it all in outline - that would be like trying to figure out how to ride a particular horse without getting on it. I have to write into the story to discover the characters. I do research on the setting as I go along, and get ideas, and some ideas "ring true" and some don't. Some that I think will work great turn out not to work when I try to write them...

I feel that a character's flaws are what allow the reader to relate to them. I'm well-known for not being a fan of the "perfect" heroine. Our admiration may be aroused by perfection, but that is a distant emotion. Empathy comes from a shared sense of humanity, and that's what interests me. The flaws that I choose are flaws that interest me; that seem to challenge the character in some way...."