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173 Book Notes When Elinore finally brings Naoko home to her parents, she realizes that by keeping her child’s birth a secret, she has participated in her parents’ “game of omissions . . . that claimed the comfort of ignorance as its prize.” But this game takes place at her daughter’s expense. Elinore wants Naoko to have a childhood like her own, surrounded by her grandparents and their stories. But what stories would Jun and Hideko tell their granddaughter ? “How the land and the people who occupied it succumbed to a hiatus of memory?” Ironically, Jun, a social worker, helps other internees break the silence. He tells Elinore that survivors’ children sometimes suffer worse symptoms than their parents. But he never speaks of his own internment and, as we later learn, has never acknowledged one of his children. Elinore’s story is also ironic: while she feels guilt for hiding her daughter’s birth from her parents, she has no idea that they have never told her the circumstances of her own birth. Jun and Hideko falsely believe they’ve contained this information. In fact, Melissa has always known Jun was her father: she remembers when he walked out on her and her mother. But Jun doesn’t know that Melissa knows. He thus arranges for Melissa and Elinore to have lunch without mentioning that they happen to be sisters. When Hideko finally tells her daughter at the end—and explains that they didn’t want Elinore to know that she was illegitimate —Elinore realizes just how closely she has relived her parents’ drama by concealing Naoko’s birth from her parents. But in contrast to Nora, Elinore embraces what was once difficult to look at. When Saburo shows up unannounced, she no longer finds him unsightly, and she and Naoko return to live with him. We don’t know if she truly avoids transmitting the trauma to her daughter, but the novel offers hope. Future Missionaries of America, by Matthew Vollmer MacAdam/Cage, 2009 reviewed by B. J. Hollars In his title story, “Future Missionaries of America,” Matthew Vollmer writes, “Stories are supposed to be sad. All the good ones, at least.” And yet he breaks his own rule in the very next colorado review 174 line, planting a much-needed dose of humor to offset the heartbreak . The twelve stories that make up Vollmer’s collection work like this: Take a strange setting (“Twenty yards ahead, an old bison moseys through steamy bacteria slime”), add one relatable memory (“Each majestically cheesy bite obliterates his taste buds, reminds him of post Little League Happy meals”), and divide by a one-liner so stripped and honest that the rest of the story fades into the background (“He’s a half-drunk dog owner dining with a beautiful woman who will leave him tomorrow ”). And then again, some stories work under a completely different formula—no formula at all. Just when we think we have a handle on him, we’re humbled once more by his misdirection. Vollmer’s stories are anything but prescriptive, yet his ability to consistently meld setting with circumstance, to create situations hinging on the absurd, allows him to traverse a tightrope of realist absurdity. This is not to say that his stories are impossible or unrealistic, but rather that they bend the ground rules of our world. In the title story, a teenage girl and her love interest (an evangelical son of a pastor) share the responsibilities of their robot baby for a home ec assignment. Their school-induced jaunt into adulthood suddenly turns real as their hormones overpower their faith. Mid-coitus, their robot baby crashes to the floor, sounding a “negligent parent” alarm, bringing the pastor himself to investigate—and discover—the sins of his own flesh and blood. The opening story, “Oh Land of Natural Paradise, How Glorious Are Thy Bounties,” follows Harper—a waiter at The Old Faithful Inn in Yellowstone Park—just hours after his best friend, Wes, has been struck and killed by an RV. He sprints through the “alien landscapes,” past the “smoking depressions in the ground, the crisp layers of lodge pole pines undulating in the moonlight,” in order...


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pp. 173-175
Launched on MUSE
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