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Sushi Daze

by Rob Payne

In Rob Payne’s latest novel, protagonist Jamie Schmidt is a 30-year-old hipster Torontonian with a McJob in radio who fears his life has jumped the shark. After George Harrison appears to him in a dream and he’s nearly thrown in the slammer for smoking drugs in a downtown alley, Schmidt decides to head for Japan to teach English. The trip is equal parts adventure and running away from the creeping meaninglessness and alienation of urban life.

The fish-out-of-water scenario is ripe for some real – and sometimes cheap – laughs, à la Lost in Translation. A beer ad reads: “Asahi for much the big taste. When I am being of the sporting life, my one refreshment is going large to the big clear taste of Asahi Super Dry. Now is the time of the great excitement.”

Like any newcomer to the Land of the Rising Sun, Schmidt is gobsmacked by the crowds, the neon, the number of Hello Kitty products, and the disconnect between the excessive politeness of the Japanese and the fact that, until recently, one could buy the soiled underwear of schoolgirls in vending machines. In between drinking, teaching, sleeping, and too-clever-by-half dialogue with his best friend back in Toronto, Schmidt trains to climb Mount Fuji to show his dedication to the BIGSUN teaching corporation and falls in love with a co-worker from Australia.

Though it occasionally tries too hard, Sushi Daze is also occasionally very funny. The roommate scenes featuring Schmidt, Eldon, the fastidious yet sullen drunk from Kentucky, and Marcus, the bald, non-drinking exercise freak from England, are a joy for anyone who’s ever shared living quarters.

Though there are a few groan-worthy cultural stereotypes here – it’s always cold in Canada, right? – Sushi Daze is noteworthy because it’s a novel about a guy trying to find himself who actually does. It’s reassuring on some level that this callow smart-aleck has broken on through to the other side, unabashedly using words such as love and hope and future. If earnestness is the new cynicism, can that be all bad?