Yukio Mishima’s Death in Midsummer and Other Stories is one of two books that my mother ordered from Amazon.com last May for her birthday (the other one is Eric V. Lustbader’s The Ninja). She had some extra money in the bank then, and curious on the service provided Amazon.com, decided to have a try. The two books were part of her reading oeuvre during her college days.
The books arrived in Cebu a week ago. It took longer to turn up since we chose the least expensive Amazon.com delivery package. But I started reading the book by Mishima (who is acting out his own suicide in the above image) as soon as I had it claimed from the post office. The stories are wonderfully told, the characters and their emotions sharply depicted, but still with the poetic brevity that reminds me of Mishima’s The Sailor Who Fell from Grace with the Sea.
And one more thing I noticed, most of Mishima’s stories in this collection have couples as main characters:
- A beautifully written and compellingly detailed exposition of a military official and his wife’s gory ritual suicide or seppuku is told in “Patriotism.”
- “Death in Midsummer,” the title story of the collection, opens with the deaths of a couple’s two children and their sister-in-law who was tasked to accompany the two in the beach during summer. The rest of the story explores the effects of this loss on the couple and their remaining child.
- Before going home from California to Japan a man in the story “Thermos Bottles” meets a past lover and her little girl who was afraid of thermos bottles and of whom the man was the father. They stir up memories of the past before the man finally returns home to his own wife and son who is also afraid of thermos bottles.
- “Three Million Yen” is of another couple wiling their time in a shopping center with a funfair while waiting for a meeting with their employer. The story ends with the couple getting their pay. But the story is also about what isn’t told for the nature of their performance for a bunch of “rich ladies” was never revealed.
- In “The Priest of Shiga Temple and His Love,” an old Buddhist monk falls in love with a courtesan of the Imperial Court.
- “Seven Bridges,” a story with an ironic ending, is on four women, who wishing to fulfill their desires, attempt to cross seven bridges around the city at night under the full moon in accordance with traditional superstition.
- While “Dojoji” is centered on an antique wardrobe sold by a dealer to rich clients told in the form of the traditional No play.
- “The Pearl” starts with a birthday party where four middle-aged women falls into a fracas over the lost of the celebrant’s pearl ring.
- And the story “Onnagata” shows the inner dynamics of the traditional Japanese Kabuki Theatre from the point of view of a man working in the backstage. ■