Review: ‘Tonoharu: Part One’
In works of fiction, I always appreciate stories that know exactly what they want to be and strive toward that identity. In other words, some books are best served by not aspiring to great pretensions.
In the case of Tonoharu: Part One (Pliant Press, $19.95) I have to eat my words, as it’s a book that perfectly accomplishes what it wants to do and still falls flat.
Creator Lars Martinson gives a fictional account of serving as an English teacher in a small Japanese town, something Martinson actually did. A prologue establishes the central character, Dan Wells, as the man who held Martinson’s post right before him (it never mentions if Dan is a real person).
As the two meet at the book’s start, Martinson describes Dan as having an "ever-present look of defeat on his face." He’s something of a Biff Loman in an international setting.
Dan’s problem is that by coming to Japan, he has cut himself off from the people, culture and language he knows. His job offers no challenges, his social life offers no prospects, so every day becomes a matter of waiting out the clock.
Martinson does a thorough job of creating this cesspool of mundanity through the painfully droll dialogue, the lazing pace of the plot and the two-toned artwork. Martinson inks in an impressive layer of detail, and even that serves to entrench the book more firmly in the boring paraphernalia of everyday life.
There is conflict, but not of man against man or man against himself. It is Dan against the sheer, painful nothingness of his existence. And that leads to a second conflict: this reviewer against Tonoharu‘s gentle urge toward sleep.