Books: The Literature of … Mililani?

A new collection of short stories focuses on young women in suburbia.
Beads, Boys and the Buddha
By Wendy Miyake

$14.53, tax included, available by e-mail at lotusmooninlove

HONOLULU Magazine’s annual fiction contest has given us a unique window into the preoccupations of Hawai’i’s short story writers (see this pdf for information on this year’s contest). Over the years, we’ve seen their subject matter shift from plantation-era stories to increasingly contemporary tales. One such writer is Wendy Miyake. Her winning short story in 2001, "," introduced us to her take on 21st-century suburban American life, as uniquely experienced by the children and grandchildren of those who once worked the plantations.

That story is one of seven in her self-published collection, Beads, Boys and the Buddha, and most of these are set in Mililani, the author’s hometown, where everyday people live a recognizably local lifestyle against a master-planned background of houses, chain restaurants and stores. "It’s time to write about Mililani," says Miyake. "There hasn’t been a local literature that talks about suburbia. People in town always say things like, "Your houses all look the same, I always get lost out there." There is an identity out here, but it’s subtle. We can distinguish each other’s houses by our fruit trees."

Miyake’s stories are rich with the details that mark a kind of middle-class striving, noting, for example, that the Ayabe matriarch in "Tribe of Snobs" drives not just any car, but an Infiniti Q45–something Mrs. Ayabe would probably want you to notice, too.

The collection may also mark the emergence of a contemporary local "chick lit." The usual Miyake protagonist is a single, local Japanese woman in her 30s, who seems to be going out of her way to stay unattached. At the same time, these characters are often obsessed with their own biology. An example is Lotus Odachi, who, in the title story, seeks a man who can heal her "wounded ovary."

Oddly enough, Miyake says her collection has sold well to male readers. "They like the humor, the chance to get into the heads of women," she explains. "My characters love men–they’re just not sitting around waiting for the right one to come along."