Written in startlingly beautiful prose, Harmless Like You is set across New York, Connecticut, and Berlin, following Yuki Oyama, a Japanese girl fighting to make it as an artist, and Yuki's son Jay who, as an adult in the present day, is forced to confront his mother's abandonment of him when he was only two years old.Read more...
Written in startlingly beautiful prose, Harmless Like You is set across New York, Connecticut, and Berlin, following Yuki Oyama, a Japanese girl fighting to make it as an artist, and Yuki's son Jay who, as an adult in the present day, is forced to confront his mother's abandonment of him when he was only two years old.
The novel opens when Yuki is sixteen and her father is posted back to Japan. Though she and her family have been living as outsiders in New York City, Yuki opts to stay, intoxicated by her friendship with the beautiful aspiring model Odile, the energy of the city, and her desire to become an artist. But when she becomes involved with an older man and the relationship turns destructive, Yuki's life is unmoored. Harmless Like You is a suspenseful novel about the complexities of identity, art, adolescent friendships, and familial bonds that asks--and ultimately answers--how does a mother desert her son?
- ISBN-13: 9781324000747
- ISBN-10: 1324000740
- Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company
- Publish Date: February 2017
- Page Count: 320
- Dimensions: 8.3 x 5.7 x 1.1 inches
- Shipping Weight: 0.9 pounds
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2016-11-28
- Reviewer: Staff
At the onset of Buchanans debut, a son shows up at the doorstep of his mother, Yuki, in Berlin after a 30-year separation. Jays there to settle Yukis inheritancea house in Connecticutafter his father is killed in a car accident. The story of what prompted Yuki to abandon her family, as well as the details of Jays life as a New York gallery owner and recent father, unspool in sections stretching from 1968 to the present. Some parts are more effective than others. After her parents move back to Japan when shes 16 and leave her in America, Yukis push to find love and purpose as an artist takes on a myopic urgency that teeters toward mania. Its therefore no surprise that she drops out of school, stays in an abusive relationship too long before marrying Jays doting father, and becomes a suburban mother, all with creativity-crushing consequences. In contrast, Jays ineptitudeat staying loyal to his wife, caring for his inarticulate pink flesh-sack of a baby, and facing his emotionsreads like a series of temper tantrums. When mother and son bond over Jays ailing cat in Berlin, the union feels too easy given the depth of their estrangement. Still, Buchanan has a knack for mining the murky depths of what it means to identify as an artist, parent, and lover. The journey is sometimes tender, often agonizingand everything in between. (Feb.)
Mother and son
When we meet Yuki and Jay, the protagonists of Rowan Hisayo Buchanan’s sad, well-written debut novel, things aren’t going so well. We first see Yuki in the ’60s, when she’s a teenager. The daughter of expatriate Japanese parents, she is adrift. Having spent most of her life in New York, she feels neither truly American nor Japanese. She moves in with a schoolmate when her parents return to Japan, then bounces from one bad situation to another; she only knows she wants to be an artist and is failing at it.
In 2016, Jay, who owns an art gallery, has just become a father. He is unprepared for fatherhood; his ancient hairless cat is more real to him than his daughter. His own father has just died, and he has to find his father’s widow, who lives in Berlin. Yes, Jay’s father’s widow is Yuki. And yes, she is Jay’s mother and he hasn’t seen her since he was a toddler.
Buchanan’s skill in bringing her characters to life is superb. Yuki joins the growing list of female protagonists who are believable, relatable but not likable. As a teenager she is tragically gormless. The contempt shown her by her school friend/roommate; her years of abuse from Lou, the shiftless poet manqué she moves in with; and her lack of success as an artist—these slights harden her, and she’s almost as mean to her saintly husband, Edison, as Lou was to her. Finally, the desperate Yuki leaves him and their son and flees to the city where ruined artists go to sort themselves out.
Freaked out by the twin shocks of Edison’s death and first-time parenthood, Jay is still capable of a trenchant sense of humor and perspective. He knows that leaving his wife with an infant and booking to Europe with a 17-year-old cat is ridiculous. The reader doesn’t lose hope in him.
Buchanan interrogates the ways pain is paid forward, how one generation repeats the foibles of another so inexorably that they seem inherited through the genes. She also wants the reader to know that the messes, like so many autosomal recessive disorders, are at least partially fixable. Harmless Like You is a lovely debut.