The bestselling author of How to Make an American Quilt experiments again with a patchwork narrative. Here she builds an elaborate story of the loves and lives of a group of young 1980s San Franciscans against a series of 18th-century Japanese woodblock prints. Each of the 12 chapters begins with the reproduction and explication of a print- all of which date from a long period of peace in Japan, stretching roughly from 1615 to 1868. Out of this peace came a flowering of “the arts of pleasure,” and it is the pursuit of pleasure that Otto documents in 20th-century San Francisco as well. The modern setting is a North Beach fringe bar, the Youki Singe Tea Room, where Otto’s expertly tailored characters drink, adjust and readjust their sense of loneliness, acceptance and desire in a series of short vignettes. Among them are Roy, “a purveyor of ‘artificial paradises,’ who is “neither sinister nor extraordinary in any way”; Jelly, who travels with a coterie of beautiful women and adoring men; Pirouz, Iranian born and raised in France, who falls in love with San Francisco and marries Jelly to secure a green card; and Raphaella, a singer with a golden voice, who usurps Pirouz’s attentions. Many more characters come and go in Otto’s merry-go-round of parties, connections, break-ups, art and glittering San Francisco skyscapes. Stylish, almost to a fault, the narrative makes a fetish of beauty and unusual art objects. It is the intricate web of human connections that gives it deeper appeal.
Forecast:The eclectic format of Otto’s latest will be familiar to fans of How to Make an American Quilt, though the young, hip, multicultural protagonists will appeal more to those who enjoyed The Passion Dream Book, her most recent novel.