The Laws of Evening

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

History plays an important role in The Laws of Evening: Stories—the Japanese/Manchurian conflict, the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, American occupation of Japan after the war. However, history is only backdrop; the stories are really about ordinary people coping with the day-to-day effects of these forces.

Four of these quietly understated stories have already won awards. In “Seed,” selected for The Pushcart Book of Short Stories: The Best Stories from a Quarter-Century of the Pushcart Prize (2002), a Japanese woman, in China in 1942 with her surveyor husband, watches prisoners being marched off to execution. When her small daughter, thinking the drum roll indicates festival, dances gleefully, the mother sees one prisoner smile at the child. In “Aftermath,” included in The Best American Short Stories 2002, a young Japanese war widow tries to get her small son to hold on to the memory of his father by lighting incense and rejecting American candy and dodge ball.

“Egg-Face” selected for The O. Henry Prize Stories 2002, focuses on a thirty-year-old woman who has never been out with a man. When she goes on a blind date arranged by a matchmaker, the encounter reveals the depth of her fading hopes. “Rationing,” chosen for The Best American Short Stories 2003, centers on a man struggling with his realization that he has never told his father, now dying of cancer, how much he admires him, both as a man and as part of the postwar generation that “rebuilt Japan from ashes.”

With delicacy, elegance, dignity, and grace, Mary Yukari Waters lyrically interprets the crucial postwar years when the Japanese tried to hold on to their cultural traditions and values in the face of the irresistible onslaught of Westernization.