SUSHI DAZE by Rob Payne (HarperCollins), 320 pages, $21.95 paper. Rating: NNN Rating: NNN
When you first meet Jamie, the hero of Sushi Daze, he comes across as somebody you wouldn't want to read about, much less know. He's alienated and fucked up, but also almost mean and cruel.
This kind of edgy material - mocking his lonely dad's mail-order clothes catalogue, making immigrant jokes - probably works pretty well for author Rob Payne as comedy onstage. But it doesn't augur well for a story that takes Jamie to Japan to teach English. But what looks like an accident about to happen turns into a sharply observed story about a bitter man humanized by his experience in a foreign country.
Getting busted for smoking a joint in Toronto motivates Jamie to say sayonara. Prompted by an ad, he leaves a sort-of girlfriend and an angry father and arrives in Japan wholly unprepared for a new country.
There, he's swept up into the world of the BigSun school, a speaking academy, not a teaching academy, where instructors often last less than a week. Plus, there are his unusual roommates, the bearish Marcus and the possibly insane Eldon, and romance blooms with his hot supervisor, Cassandra.
This is really a comic novel about culture shock. Jamie discovers that Japan is a country of wild obsessions - with punctuality, schoolgirl porn and fast food - but also a place where you can experience great beauty and small kindnesses.
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