Ishiguro's Savvy, Smooth Tales Play Variations on the American Songbook Nocturnes: Five Stories of Music and Nightfall By Kazuo Ishiguro 240 pages; Knopf
The British writer Kazuo Ishiguro is a master of deception, presenting his characters and their psychological ticks with a surface calm that belies an ocean of turmoil. If you've read his deservedly acclaimed novels, such as The Remains of the Day, or my own favorite, Never Let Me Go, you're already aware of his ability to conjure an entire world in prose that is spare and simple, yet never cold. But now, in Nocturnes , Ishiguro gives us a collection of five related stories that push his faux naive manner even further. Misfits abound here—classical musicians from Eastern Europe who play show tunes and old standards in Venice's tourist traps, a wildly talented saxophonist who goes under the knife to advance his career, a slacker singer-songwriter—all slyly united by an appreciation for music's greats (Gershwin, Porter, Sarah Vaughn, even a nod to Hendrix in the form of a destructive dog) that is both nostalgic and witty. Reverse expectations litter these plots, and Ishiguro knows better than to suggest closure of any kind. At heart, Ishiguro's battery of talents are applied in Nocturnes to one goal—the scrubbing away of false romance, of clichéd resolutions, in life and in his writing. The result is a pitch-perfect riff on the sheer quirkiness of reality.