Unreal Realia

Rating: NNNa strapping blond babe from Lethbridge, Alberta, teaches English in Japan, where she gets it on with the country's.

Rating: NNN

a strapping blond babe from Lethbridge, Alberta, teaches English in Japan, where she gets it on with the country’s biggest pop star. Will Aitken uses this premise to launch a pointed and often very funny meditation on the influence of western pop culture.Louise does not fit in. She’s a tall redhead, the Japanese are small and dark. Her personal aesthetic is gaudy, the decor around her is minimalist. And where her hosts are ultra-formal, she doesn’t give a shit about appearances.

She’s hired on as a dialogue coach at the School of Heartfelt Purity, which specializes in performing American musicals. Louise becomes the object of fascination of almost everyone she meets, including her students, and even makes a big impression on the popular singer Oro. He’s accustomed to getting everything he wants, and Louise is no exception.

Then all hell breaks loose. The school administration is appalled, her students are enthralled with the affair, the tabloids go berserk and it looks like Louise will lose all control over her life.

What’s mystifying about Realia is its 80s setting. Locating the story 15 years in the past is presumably intended to site it amid Japan’s economic boom, when hair was big and pop music was especially bad. But the strategy backfires, giving the book a dated feeling, as if we were reading about something that doesn’t matter any more. Why narrow the focus when western pop culture holds as much sway worldwide as it ever did in the 80s?

Still, the book has a hallucinatory appeal and a female heroine who couldn’t care less whether she’s liked or not ­– a rare and welcome feature in any literary endeavour. Aitken reads tomorrow (Friday, December 15) with Michael Ondaatje and Anne Carson in a fundraiser for the Abelard School. See Readings, this page.REALIA by Will Aitken (Random House), 258 pages, $29.95 cloth.

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