Sunday, April 12, 2015

Book review: The erotic memoir returns, from the East

A touchstone of the 1970s "Me Decade"(and in fact a holdover from the 1920s/1930s heyday of Henry Miller, Anais Nin et al), the erotic memoir  essentially disappeared from popular consciousness and discourse from the early 80s onward.

Who better than a Jamaican to revive the genre and with a near unexpected twist?

Stefhen Bryan initially escapes his mother's repressive parental style, or so he thinks, when he lands,at age 15, at his father's place in New York City. When it becomes clear however, that his father is totally uninterested in nay kind of relationship with him, he begins a westward odyssey that takes him first to Denver Colorado, and eventually to California. the substance of Bryan's parental relationships are detailed in the one-man play "Doodu Boy", which forms an important corollary to this book.

After gaining his first degree, and with brief detours in the UK as well as back in his native Jamaica, Bryan - financially down and dogged by his own familial obligations, accepts, in 2001, an offer to teach English in Japan, where he is suddenly able to fulfill his long-held predilection for Oriental women - an appetite first stoked in Jamaica, where the girls of Chinese and mixed ancestry offered a picture of  financial substance relative tothe grinding poverty of his own formative years.

Thus given free rein, Bryan indulges in a sexual spree that would likely defeat many men and may well have made Miller himself proud. Wives, students, professionals (including the co-ordinator of his teaching course) all make up what he describes as a "revolving army of sexual partners, all Japanese. 

The memoir describes Bryan's carnal adventures through a cultural lens that touches on interracial relationships, promiscuity, patriarchy and abortion. Included is sex research that one reviewer asserts "would make Kinsey proud." 

This ethnic exclusivity does impart to the author some insights as to a national psyche of the Japanese woman (aided by Bryan's own extensive bouts of therapy), but for the reader, it largely comes off as a little black book opened for public viewing; one sexual conquest essentially following another, with much the same descriptives used. Bryan's dynamism (coupled with a distinctly amoral persona) is palpable, but the prose itself is never spectacular enough to transcend the subject matter. 

 The author's outsider-insider observations of mores and relationships in Japan are fascinating. They are also the kind of blunt talk you won't get elsewhere. Black Passenger, Yellow Cabs is a ride you may take willingly - but perhaps only once.

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