The Stuff that Nightmares Are Made of – Yasutaka Tsutsui

“The Stuff that Nightmares Are Made of” (novelette) by Yasutaka Tsutsui

English Publication History: The Girl Who Leapt Through Time (2011, Alma)

Original: Japanese (悪夢の真相), 1967

Translated by David Karashima, 2011

Synopsis: Masako doesn’t understand her fear of Prajna masks and heights. While the latter dear is commonplace, the former is one that baffles her. When she sees her younger brother’s fears rooted in threats by their parents, Masako begins to understand that all fears have an unconscious and irrational root. Facing her fears, she and her boy friend Bunichi climb up high, yet she realizes that without spindles, she’s not afraid; however, the presence spindles, especially tall ones, ceases her up. In order to better understand the connection between the spindles and the mask, the two return to Masako’s hometown, where coincidence strikes and revelation springs.

Analysis: As straight forward as the synopsis points out, the entire story revolves around the teen-aged duo discovering Masako’s seemingly irrational fears. As Masako realizes through two of her brother’s fears, all fears are rooted in experience somehow; the most difficult part of this rooting out is digging down into words and histories to find the point where something tragic happened. They also begin to understand that when these fears are faced, they can overcome them. There’s very little revelation in the story as it’s easy for the reader to predict that her two fears have a similar root; in addition, I feel that the story was very superficial, without any deeper layers of allegory.

Review: Again, as mentioned in the analysis, the story is very straightforward. It’s linear and open to the reader, who’s also able to put two (fear of the mask) and two (fear of banisters) together to understand that they somehow equate to a fear-inducing sum. This conclusion–a revelation of sorts for Masako but a mere point of understanding for the reader–passes with very little interest in the reader as there was very little in which to immerse oneself. Like “The Girl Who Leapt Through Time”, this story feels very much like YA-lit without much appeal to an adult audience.

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