Intimacies (2021) Katie Kitamura

Intimacies (2021), A Separation (2017), Katie Kitamura

Katie Kitamura (born 1979) is a good indication of where literary publishing is today. She has published two earlier novels, Gone to the Forest (2013) and her debut novel The Longshot (2009), plus the autobiographical Japanese for Travellers: A Journey (2006), none of which I have yet gotten around to reading closely.

I’ve nonetheless seen enough of The Longshot and Gone to the Forest to note that somewhere between them and her most recent two novels, she evolved from traditional quote-marked dialogue to the more contemporary unmarked dialogue style in which about half of today’s literary-journal short stories are published. This is not the most noteworthy or instructive thing about her writing, but as I’ve not yet discussed that style of dialogue in takeaways, I may as well begin with it here.

For those who have not used un-quote-marked dialogue, Intimacies and A Separation are already worth studying simply to absorb the ways she integrates such dialogue. When used well, the technique does yield a more personal, inner narrative style rather akin to indirect dialogue only more, well… direct. It’s less of a jolt to shift into reading such dialogue than it is to shift back out of it and recommence reading quote-marked dialogue. Shifting in, one barely notices. When it’s done well, as Kitamura does it, there’s no ambiguity about what is speech and what is narrative or commentary. When shifting out, one tends to resent the intrusion of all the traditional markup, which feels all knees and elbows for a bit.

However, there are definitely subtleties one cannot convey, or conveys less easily, without the traditional markup, and it’s easy to create unintentional ambiguities. If you haven’t written in it, it’s worth trying for the technical understanding alone. Personally, I find as a reader that the style works better in short stories than novels, but Kitamura makes it work just fine. And really, both these novels feel like extended novellas, anyway.

Particularly Intimacies is a highly subjective work in which perceptions and feelings are only loosely tied to events around the main character. It’s an inner exploration precipitated in part by outer events. In that sense, it’s a forward evolution from A Separation—a further development of such perspective.

(to be continued…)