Strange Horizons, March 11, 2013
Reviewed by Matthew Nadelhaft
This week’s Strange Horizons brings us “Town’s End” by Yukimi Ogawa, an odd collection of folkloric and modern elements. While the prose was rather clunky at times – I believe English is not Ogawa’s first language – it possessed its own awkward charm, like Felicia Day in an anorak.
“Town’s End” is the story of a young woman who works at a small marriage agency (the face-to-face, Japanese precursor to Match.com). It’s a lonely job, with no business in quite some time and a mysterious, absentee boss, which leaves her ample time to pine over her ex-boyfriend.
When business finally picks up, it is decidedly strange. A series of unique and connected clients with forthright demands about mating. Though their desires aren’t exactly part of the business’s remit, the narrator decides to help them, and inevitably becomes involved in their strange situation.
The elements of folklore and modernity fit together nicely in this story, and all of the characters have a certain deft sweetness. The main problem is the number of details vying for attention. The mysterious boss, the addition of an element of threat and danger and an attempt to work the ex-boyfriend into the plot are all unnecessary to the story and distract from the central relationship between the narrator and her clients. The core concepts of Ogawa’s tale could have stood on their own. It’s taken as a truism that conflict drives narrative, but this story makes me wonder if that truism is necessarily true.