Magazine • February 2, 2022
In under five pages, Kiik Araki-Kawaguchi’s story "Columbo and Sugar Okawa,” from A Public Space No. 30, spans generations and many, many dinners. (The working title of the piece, in fact, was “Dinner Story.”) Dinner each night at the Okawas is a joyful, succulent event, a little bit of theater at the end of the day where every dish is a new soliloquy. The barer the cupboard, the more the meal was a “hodgepodge of double coupons,” the grander and more outlandish the exclamations of Columbo and Sugar, whose three daughters—Tomiye, Yuki, and Kaji—observe and anchor the story—and the dinner table—from the middle of three generations.
This is a story with a conscious and an unconscious mind. Humor rocks with high-energy frenzy, and beneath it the bitter layers slowly unfurl. When I think of hyperbole in fiction, I am sometimes reminded of balloons, the words expanding and rising and taking up a lot of space without weighing much. Here, hyperbole is a thorny outcrop, snagging your sweater as you walk past. A baby’s head bleeding, coming home from work with bandaged hands. And yet there is one feeling that burns throughout the story: love.
I first encountered Kiik Araki-Kawaguchi’s writing through his poetry, lush lines like these from “New Dawn Fades”: “The eternal in me recognizes / The eternal in your keep / . . . / It is my foam and honey / Of the petri plate.” When I first read his fiction, I realized, of course, that there is poetry lying in wait in every sentence—not just poetic language but a somehow poetic way of transferring the world onto the page, of thinking, of being. I admit I have the blessing and the curse of being an extremely literal reader, but Kiik’s work overwrites those parts of my senses that are too much to-the-letter—his work helps me deviate, which is to say, it makes me a better reader and editor.
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