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In “Prisoners Exercising,” a woman intent on keeping a perfect household is drawn into her own washing machine. Once inside, she experiences a series of events reminiscent of the old riddle about being stuck in a room with only a mirror and a table, the answer to your escape lying in a series of word games. As in the riddle, the reader has to suspend belief and allow the author creative license in transforming an unremarkable day in the life of an unremarkable woman into something enchanting.
The first time I read this story I was unsure how I felt about it. The riddle-like quality of the story’s action is combined with an almost Pedro Almodóvar-esque sense of entertainment: provocatively real characters are presented in situations that are so normal as to be mundane, until they are viewed from an alternate perspective. As with a Pedro Almodóvar film, this story has to be experienced once, mulled over, and re-experienced in order to be fully appreciated. It is both deceptively simple and deeply layered.
Yamada’s writing has a very particular style to it, an awkwardness that make the story read like an English translation rather than a story written in English. In this particular case, it makes the story all the better. Written with more smoothness of language or with more American-English phrasing, the piece would lose much of its appeal. A few editorial glitches show up, but not enough to impede the story.
Overall, this piece is artistic and literary, by which I mean it is both lovely and a bit weird. It is a style of story that will certainly not appeal to everyone, but is well worth the read.
Reviewed by Aubrey Bennet