A review of Border Town by Hillel Wright

Wright excels at the exploration of popular culture. He writes well of comix, jazz, and the media. He is still enough of a hippy to deplore the world’s sad path to a reactionary and repressive right. He is not only worth reading on this score, he has found an artistically satisfying platform for his discourse.

Reviewed by Bob Williams

Border Town
by Hillel Wright
Printed Matter Press
2006, ISBN 1-933606-08-8, $15.00, 170 pages

Hillel Wright, a man of many pursuits and accomplishments, has had experience as a professional writer and as a teacher. He lives in Japan and has written three works of fiction. The first two were distinguished by exuberance and achievement along with some lapses and failures. The overall impression is one of a scarcely disciplined but very interesting artist. His command of English is still a bit twitchy, but it marks an advance over his early books and there is so much to admire here that we can forgive, although we wince, at “from whence” and an occasional misplaced modifier.

In Border Town, compared to Rotary Sushi and All Worldly Pursuits, there is a new note. Wright in Border Town not only takes care, he takes aim and for the most part scores significantly on his chosen target. Not that he foregoes high jinks: Border Town involves coincidences in sexual encounters that result in one character being simultaneously the stepdaughter and granddaughter of the same man. It is best here to accept the amusement provided by all this and not try to hard to figure much of it out.

Old Man is the character around whom the book revolves. While living in Canada, he meets and marries a much younger woman from Japan. They leave for Japan where they live together for twenty years. They have a son Ichiro and both pursue careers that are satisfying and profitable. Old Man’s wife Fumie Akahoshi becomes a famous graphic novels artist whose work escalates in topicality until it offends the powerful right wing of Japan and she becomes the target of yakusa assassination. Between their marriage and this event much has happened and the twists of the plot Wright matches with twists of narrative strategy. These twists widen the scope of the book and the number of characters so that this becomes on these bases alone a very different book from his previous ones. The unruly hero (Wiley Moon) of All Worldly Pursuits receives a passing mention as Old Man’s agent.

We get a clue to the reason for the difference of Border Town from the prior books. Old Man has a novel – The 124 Year Old Man – and it is with this novel that he will achieve something lasting. Border Town is Wright’s equivalent of that fictional novel, a more sober approach to the art of writing and one that requires unexpectedly serious attention.

Wright excels at the exploration of popular culture. He writes well of comix, jazz, and the media. He is still enough of a hippy to deplore the world’s sad path to a reactionary and repressive right. He is not only worth reading on this score, he has found an artistically satisfying platform for his discourse.

As a splendid bonus to a very good book, there are several drawings of great beauty by Taeko Onitsuka. These are adaptations of traditional iconography to Wright’s narrative. The disparities are deliberate and funny in a slyly quiet way.

About the Reviewer: Bob Williams is retired and lives in a small town with his wife, dogs and a cat. He has been collecting books all his life, and has done freelance writing, mostly on classical music. His principal interests are James Joyce, Jane Austen and Homer. His writings, two books and a number of short articles on Joyce, can be accessed at: http://www.grand-teton.com/service/Persons_Places

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