Kuniko Mukōda’s 1981 The Woman Next Door is a collection of pieces that were first published towards the end of the late author’s career. The 2021 translation is by A. Reid Monroe-Sheridan. All five stories appear long enough to qualify as novellas.
All of the stories date from 1980 and 1981, so they may be among the last things the author wrote before being killed in the Far Eastern Air Transport Flight 103 crash. Some elements are reused — fathers leaving or betraying their families, unrequested revelations — but there’s no sense of repetition. The results are not particularly dramatic. The stories offer quiet glimpses of people contending with domestic disappointment of one sort or another.
There is not the smallest hint of speculative fiction in this book, so I don’t know why Kurodahan Press sent it to me. Nevertheless, the collection served as an introduction to the works of Kuniko Mukōda (1929 – 1981). Having previously been unaware of this award-winning author thanks to my narrow genre focus, I appreciated the chance to widen my reading.
The Woman Next Door
Thin walls and her promiscuous neighbour Mineko’s loudly conducted love life lead a hard-working housewife Sachiko to realize how unrewarding her life is. Wild adventure follows! But ultimately Sachiko cannot resist conformity.
This recalls the Flitcraft incident in Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon , in which narrow escape from death leads Flitcraft to abandon his utterly conventional life for a nearly indistinguishable conventional life.
The sort of woman who makes bridal dresses for other women rather than wearing one herself, Motoko finally finds love with Kazuo. The revelation that Kazuo is the younger brother of the man who dumped Motoko’s older sister is a surprise. More revelations follow, ones that force reassessment of Motoko’s relationship with Kazuo.
The Walnut Room
Her father’s mid-life crisis and subsequent abandonment of his wife and family in favour of a new, younger girlfriend forces Momoko to adopt an adult role, standing in for her now-absent father. Years of hard work and sacrifice follow. But has Momoko been denied important information about her family’s circumstances?
Kōichirō’s father’s death brings with it not just bereavement, but the unexpected discovery that his father had a second, secret family and that Kōichirō has a half-brother named Kōji. The more prosperous of the two, Kōichirō juggles a sense of responsibility towards Kōji with resentment that the younger man exists at all.
Spring Has Come
Eager to impress new boyfriend Kazami, Naoko exaggerates her family’s circumstances. To her surprise, Kazami does not mind the lies once revealed. Indeed, he seems quite fond of Naoki’s family. Perhaps too fond….
The Woman Next Door is not available from Chapters-Indigo.