Friday, 8 March 2013

The Man Who Cut the Grass

An author I've been meaning to read again is Yamamoto Michiko, recently I've been thinking about the Betty-san - Stories that I read sometime ago, most of those stories were set in Australia, where Yamamoto lived for some years, there are not many clues as to where the setting of The Man Who Cut the Grass is situated, it could be Japan, but neither city or town are named. Yamamoto's stories give a voice to women who appear to find themselves designated to the peripheries of society. The narrative is from Mayo, a housewife, who looking out the window notices in adjacent land to her house the arrival of a man who is clearing the growth of an area of pampas grass, unusually he is using a sickle instead of a machine, she goes out and asks if she could have some of the pieces of grass where the flower heads remain in bud, these are her favourite, the man doesn't appear to communicate with her directly which arouses her curiosity, in a series of observations of his movements and appearance she tries to create a clearer picture of him and his behaviour, later he calls on her house asking for water so he can sharpen his sickle.
Through Mayo's observations Yamamoto's narrative becomes suggestive although non-judgemental leaving it up to the reader to conclude or judge the motives of her characters, and in The Man Who Cut the Grass there are some linking motifs, the first of these is white tennis shoes which the grass cutter is wearing, these provoke in Mayo a memory from her childhood, of when police officers called at her mother's house wanting to use it so they can observe a neighbouring house which they suspect is being used to print counterfeit money, after the police leave Mayo surreptitiously observes the house in her own surveillance, she remembers that the previous owner of the house was also arrested, an illustrative diversion in the narrative which adds another layer in these memories. Mayo sees strange lights in the building, perhaps candle or torch light, and sees a man whose identity the police check, the police later discover that the man in the building had hung himself the night Mayo was watching the building and that they had made a mistake and that he was clean, he was in debt and left behind a wife and children, Mayo as a child obviously finds this fact hard to digest and imagines that in actual fact he was a counterfeiter and that he had sent the money to his wife and children and destroyed the evidence. 
The narrative returns to the grass cutter and Mayo's observation of him, she remains unsure of him and his motives, so in turn we remain wary of him and his intentions, Mayo seems to be in fear of him returning to her house to ask for water again, another aspect that links her memory and that of the cutter is that of the empty lot he is clearing which mirrors the one in her memory as sometime after the man had hung himself his house was pulled down and the lot remained empty for six months before a three story apartment building was constructed, not only this but the grass cutter's movements remind Mayo of the man, abruptly Mayo's narrative seems to break down into everyday conversation with her husband who seems to be only listening to her distractedly. The Man Who Cut the Grass is a story that operates on many different narrative frontiers and deftly portrays the differring dimensions between surface and depth, and dispenses with the barriers between what constitutes as the recognized and with what we disregard as being inconsequential. The title of the story sounds like that it could resemble being taken from a proverb, maybe in the same sense as in the saying; 'cut the mustard' someone who makes the grade, which allows another dimension to the comparative depth of Mayo's observations between the two men, which to some degrees balances with that of her and by turns our own predicament.
The Man Who Cut the Grass/Kusa o Karu Otoko translated by Elizabeth Hanson is one of the stories from This Kind of Woman.           



Parrish Lantern said...

Not a writer I've read, meaning I need to broaden my selection.

me. said...

Slowly working my way through this anthology, each of the stories that I've read have been revelatory.