Books

The Stories In 'Acts of Worship' Feel Like Practice Runs for Better Things to Come

This is an erratic arrangement of tales that merely offers glimpses into Yukio Mishima’s later greatness as a novelist.


Acts of Worship: Seven Stories

Publisher: Kodansha International
Length: 208 pages
Author: Yukio Mishima
Price: $17.00
Format: Paperback
Publication Date: 2002-09
Amazon

Yukio Mishima is a writer most known for his intense and lyrical novels and less so for his short stories. After reading this collection, one can see why. Acts of Worship is not a bad book, but rather an erratic arrangement of tales that merely offers glimpses into Mishima’s later greatness as a novelist. The short story form does not seem to suit him, for many of the characters in this collection come across as cardboard cutouts.

Also, the shorter fictive form is at his disadvantage since there is little breathing room for error. To contrast, in the novel form, when Mishima dips into heavy-handedness and moments of melodrama, the length of the work often leaves more room for forgiveness and his weaker moments are not as obvious. Also, the homoeroticism, coupled with violence, is presented as self-indulgent within this collection and seems more like Mishima is acting out his personal fantasies than higher acts of art.

For those unfamiliar with the writer and legend that is Yukio Mishima, he lived a sensationalized life and underwent an even a more sensationalized death. Allegedly it was only eight hours after he finished The Decay of the Angel (the final novel in his Sea of Fertility four book series) that Mishima performed a public act of seppuku.

Homoeroticism, violence and destruction are recurring themes throughout his work, though in his novels, such as The Temple of the Golden Pavilion, Forbidden Colors, and to a lesser extent, Confessions of a Mask, Mishima is able to express these themes with great beauty and skill. These stories, however, do not offer the same level of quality.

The first story, “Fountains in the Rain”, is one of the best stories in the collection. The opening is strong and the observations are insightful. The tale ultimately expresses a brief moment about a breakup, where the boy tells the girl he needs to end things, but she does not hear him. When they are forced to share an umbrella in the rain, the narrator notes: “She had no umbrella herself, he had no choice but to let her share his. It reminded him of the way older people, for the benefit of the outside world, went on pretending even after they’d stopped feeling anything.”

The second story, “Raisin Bread”, is rather forgettable although it dips into the occasional cliché. The lead character is a failed suicide and offers all the standard clichés for the depressed personality. None of the characters involved are memorable and it is a significant drop-off in quality as compared to the first tale.

The third story, “Sword”, involves a college fencing club and the characters are once again fairly forgettable and cardboard cutouts. Much of the tale is mere description of plot and little observation. Also, scenes come across as heavy-handed and melodramatic, ultimately resulting in death. This is a story Mishima has written many times, albeit much better in his later novels. A reviewer named Justin Isis sums up my opinion of the tale rather well in his blog, SwiftyWriting (9 November 2006):

“Jiro is a clear precursor to Isao in Runaway Horses, virtually the same character in fact - even his conflict of subconscious preoccupation with his father is carried over in the later novel. The difference is that, given a full-length novel to work with, Mishima is able to explore Isao's contradictions and flaws in greater detail, rounding him into a three-dimensional character. In contrast, 'Sword' just feels like a demo or dry run.”

Amen. In fact, most of these tales feel like demos or practice runs, with exception to the last story, which is novella length. Both the tales “Sea and Sunset” and “Cigarette” have their moments, such as a wonderful description in “Cigarette” where the narrator is describing stillness by way of observing a leaf in a pond.

"Martyrdom" is arguably the weakest tale in the book. Two young males fight and then engage in sex, only to end in death. Readers feel nothing for the characters and once again, are merely echoes of what one will find in his more polished works.

“Acts of Worship” is the final tale and it has length working in its favor. Because it is technically a novella, Mishima is able to flesh out the characters more. In addition, this tale is actually tender and laced with pathos, and one of the few times Mishima expresses empathy for a type of character that otherwise he would overlook. Both characters are old and physically unattractive.

Mishima tends to not grant much favor to those who are without beauty (since one of the themes in The Temple of the Golden Pavilion is the idea that with beauty comes power and thus this power must be carried out only by destruction of such beauty). “Acts of Worship” is not a great story, but it does show moments of potential and the range for which Mishima is capable.

5
Music


Books


Film


Recent
Music

Run the Jewels - "Ooh LA LA" (Singles Going Steady)

Run the Jewels' "Ooh LA LA" may hit with old-school hip-hop swagger, but it also frustratingly affirms misogynistic bro-culture.

Books

New Translation of Balzac's 'Lost Illusions' Captivates

More than just a tale of one man's fall, Balzac's Lost Illusions charts how literature becomes another commodity in a system that demands backroom deals, moral compromise, and connections.

Music

Protomartyr - "Processed by the Boys" (Singles Going Steady)

Protomartyr's "Processed By the Boys" is a gripping spin on reality as we know it, and here, the revolution is being televised.

Music

Go-Go's Bassist Kathy Valentine Is on the "Write" Track After a Rock-Hard Life

The '80s were a wild and crazy time also filled with troubles, heartbreak and disappointment for Go-Go's bass player-guitarist Kathy Valentine, who covers many of those moments in her intriguing dual project that she discusses in this freewheeling interview.

Music

New Brain Trajectory: An Interview With Lee Ranaldo and Raül Refree

Two guitarists, Lee Ranaldo and Raül Refree make an album largely absent of guitar playing and enter into a bold new phase of their careers. "We want to take this wherever we can and be free of genre restraints," says Lee Ranaldo.

Books

'Trans Power' Is a Celebration of Radical Power and Beauty

Juno Roche's Trans Power discusses trans identity not as a passageway between one of two linear destinations, but as a destination of its own.

Music

Yves Tumor Soars With 'Heaven to a Tortured Mind'

On Heaven to a Tortured Mind, Yves Tumor relishes his shift to microphone caressing rock star. Here he steps out of his sonic chrysalis, dons some shiny black wings and soars.

Music

Mike Patton and Anthony Pateras' tētēma Don't Hit the Mark on 'Necroscape'

tētēma's Necroscape has some highlights and some interesting ambiance, but ultimately it's a catalog of misses for Mike Patton and Anthony Pateras.

Music

M. Ward Offers Comforting Escapism on 'Migration Stories'

Although M. Ward didn't plan the songs on Migration Stories for this pandemic, they're still capable of acting as a balm in these dark hours.

Music

Parsonsfield Add Indie Pop to Their Folk on 'Happy Hour on the Floor'

Happy Hour on the Floor is a considerable departure from Parsonsfield's acclaimed rustic folk sound signaling their indie-pop orientation. Parsonsfield remind their audience to bestow gratitude and practice happiness: a truly welcomed exaltation.

Music

JARV IS... - "House Music All Night Long" (Singles Going Steady)

"House Music All Night Long" is a song our inner, self-isolated freaks can jive to. JARV IS... cleverly captures how dazed and confused some of us may feel over the current pandemic, trapped in our homes.

Music

All Kinds of Time: Adam Schlesinger's Pursuit of Pure, Peerless Pop

Adam Schlesinger was a poet laureate of pure pop music. There was never a melody too bright, a lyrical conceit too playfully dumb, or a vibe full of radiation that he would shy away from. His sudden passing from COVID-19 means one of the brightest stars in the power-pop universe has suddenly dimmed.

Music

Folkie Eliza Gilkyson Turns Up the Heat on '2020'

Eliza Gilkyson aims to inspire the troops of resistance on her superb new album, 2020. The ten songs serve as a rallying cry for the long haul.

Music

Human Impact Hit Home with a Seismic First Album From a Veteran Lineup

On their self-titled debut, Human Impact provide a soundtrack for this dislocated moment where both humanity and nature are crying out for relief.

Music

Monophonics Are an Ardent Blast of True Rock 'n' Soul on 'It's Only Us'

The third time's the charm as Bay Area soul sextet Monophonics release their shiniest record yet in It's Only Us.

Film

'Slay the Dragon' Is a Road Map of the GOP's Methods for Dividing and Conquering American Democracy

If a time traveler from the past wanted to learn how to subvert democracy for a few million bucks, gerrymandering documentary Slay the Dragon would be a superb guide.

Music

Bobby Previte / Jamie Saft / Nels Cline: Music from the Early 21st Century

A power-trio of electric guitar, keyboards, and drums takes on the challenge of free improvisation—but using primarily elements of rock and electronica as strongly as the usual creative music or jazz. The result is focused.

Books

Does Inclusivity Mean That Everyone Does the Same Thing?

What is the meaning of diversity in today's world? Russell Jacoby raises and addresses some pertinent questions in his latest work, On Diversity.

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews
Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.