The Bridegroom Was a Dog by Yoko Tawada is enormously strange and wonderfully perverse. Set in an Asian town that feels modern yet classical, the anonymity of the town is what makes the casually bizarre happenings of the story so easy to accept. There is this clash between the traditional value-focused mindsets of the community and the bizarre eccentricities of the central characters. Tawada captures something about human nature that is timeless and seems to have only gotten truer. We are so willing to accept people’s strange qualities, and in doing so pat ourselves on the back for being so open-minded, as long as those qualities remain at a distance, preferably out of sight, and don’t directly involve us. We love to humor belief in the out-of-the-ordinary and fantastic, imagine the world as an exciting and incredible place, but we want our own lives to remain simple and contained within our own determined boundaries. And this describes the various housewives’ reactions to Miss Kitamura and her strange new house guest. The housewives hear from their children about various quirks of Miss Kitamura’s, who is their day school teacher, and are morbidly fascinated by this strange woman, but as long as their children don’t seem negatively influenced by her sporadically strange behavior they are more than willing to explain it away as the product of their children’s active imaginations. But when quiet and pretty Miss Kitamura suddenly has a strange man living with her and seems unwilling and unable to explain her new situation, her strangeness becomes an alarming potential influence on their children.
This is mostly a minor observation, but one that I found endlessly fascinating as a storytelling decision. Tawada executes it extremely well, and I feel like learning how to do this would be a key to writing the kind of strange stories that I dream of writing.
The story as a whole is much too complex and layered to try and analyze it for meanings. What makes it so satisfying is how elusive and undefinable it is. Starting to read Grimms’ Tales For Young and Old immediately after reinforced the idea that what makes “fairy tales” and modern stories inspired by them so fascinating is how they embrace the fantastical, odd, and chaotic natures of morality and humanity. And, unlike more realistic stories in general, at the end of the story you can’t simply say the theme of the story was the fallibility of love, which is exactly the kind of simplistic interpretation Bridegroom Was a Dog doesn’t encourage. Instead it inspires many interpretations, conflicting, contradicting, and never aligning snugly over the narrative in its entirety.
What I love about stories like this is that it doesn’t leave me yearning to know exactly what the writer was intending, and obsessing over the purpose of individual scenes. The story takes place in a world of its own, and looking back over it all it feels as if reading it was to jump into a point in the small town’s existence where strangeness begins to invade the streets and when the monotony that makes up most everyone’s life shifted and become something darker and stranger. And for many of the characters their lives will go back to the same monotony after the story’s ending, but for others the strange reality of the story will stay a part of their lives forever. As reader’s this is exactly what we want from a story, for it to end with the feeling that the strangeness will continue for the character’s far after the final page, because weird adventures imagined are almost as interesting as adventures read, and it’s not as if they could leak into our lives, right?