Stone Field, True Arrow by Kyoko Mori [in aOnline]
Kyoko Mori’s Stone Field, True Arrow is a love story – or sorts. An exasperating one, at that, filled with characters emotionally paralyzed to the point of utter immobility. Maya Ishida, a 34-year-old weaver, tops the list … this is her story after all. She has so long denied her feelings that by the time the reader meets her, she’s quite a washed-out bore. Silence surrounds her: she’s either thinking or saying some version of ‘there’s nothing more to say.’
Maya is stuck in a dull marriage to Jeff, with whom she shares virtually nothing of her life. She’s always leaving him to either go work all night in her convenient studio, or to have overnights with her needy best friend. You wonder why she doesn’t just leave for good.
So, of course, there must be a past to explain this deserting behavior. Yes, and it’s replayed ad nauseum throughout the book, from every angle possible: Maya left her artist Daddy behind in Osaka, Japan where she shared the perfect pastoral creative life with her father-hero, only to be brutally uprooted by a narcissistic mother to Milwaukee. Mommy, who ran off to finish a doctorate in the States and never came back, decides it’s best for Maya to grow up in the freedom of the West, even though it means leaving beloved Daddy, which Mommy thinks is a good thing because he doesn’t really love their daughter enough anyway. Daddy, a passive dreamer, lets his child go, because, as he teaches Maya, true love means letting go. And once she’s gone, he ever contacts her again, even returning all her letters unread. Life with Mom is not unlike Cinderella’s, minus the stepsisters. Maya spends what seems to be endless hours locked in a dark basement, with only her watch with the light-up button for company, punished for some such minor infraction or another. Mom’s got issues of her own.
In fact, all the characters have “issues.” You can just hear the ‘ka-chunk’ of the therapy bills. Besides Maya, there’s hubby Jeff with an ex-wife that left every weekend to do her own thing and screamed when she was around. But at least Jeff knew she had emotions, unlike Maya who is just placid, unreachable, cold, and silent. Then there’s Yuko, who claimed Maya as her best friend on her first day in American school at age 10. She’s in the throes of being the abandoned wife to a philandering husband who insists that he has discovered true love for the very fist time in his life, never mind his decade-plus with Yuko. Don’t even bother asking any more about the mother, or her latest, youngest, new-age hippie Asia-phile of a husband.
No doubt that only finding her true soulmate will free Maya from her static oblivion. Enter Eric, who gets drunk at a party, is deserted by his mean date, rescued by Maya who drives him home, sobers him up somewhat, and leaves him enchanted. No surprise that he’s only had bad relationships with women, or is that relationships with bad women? No matter – Maya’s about to change all that.
Yes, they fall in love, but Maya insists she needs to be alone. Because – let’s all say it together – Daddy says love means letting go. But they manage to have a month or so together before she sends him off to Vermont. Why? Because he must live his own artist life, away from the burdens of caring for his aging parents. So much for filial duties. But hey, he has to be free for the sake of his art. And Maya, too, insists she has to be free – to be alone.
Maya’s version of the “I-vant-to-be-alone”-speech gets old really fast. “Just get over it,” you want to scream. And while I don’t want to give away the ending – although you can easily guess, I’m sure – I have to say that closing the book left me completed annoyed.
In spite of these ridiculously frustrating characters and a contrived plot, Mori can certainly craft beautiful, lyrical prose. Stone Field, True Arrow – a title which refers to the four Kanji characters that make up Maya’s full name, Ishida Mayumi – is Mori’s first adult novel. As in her previous memoirs, The Dream of Water and Polite Lies, and her young adult titles One Bird and The Dream of Water, Mori’s writing is quiet and lulling, her images poetic and ethereal.
Mori can definitely write. But the language that worked so well in her previous works, fails here. The beauty of her words is in sharp contrast to her less-than-sympathetic characters. But then Mori’s just starting her adult fiction career. Judging by her literal and lyrical talents, she’s got considerable success ahead. If at first you don’t succeed …