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Every Drop Is A Man’s Nightmare 

Megan Kamalei Kakimoto 

Granta (2023)


Review by Suzanne Harrington


It’s hard to believe that this collection of short stories is a debut. The assurance with which Megan Kamalei Kakimoto takes us – marches us – into the lives of a cast of Hawaiian women is astonishing, as is the magic of her language. You could read it for that magic alone. In a nail bar, ‘the fuchsia counter shines liquid smooth under champagne lights’; in the sea, ‘brine webs my eyes ruby red’; in a bedroom, beneath ‘bitter hotel lights… the skirt swallowed her in its narrow, puckered maw’; on a plane, ‘the honeymooners folded into each other like the suctioned legs of octopus.’ Wow. 


The stories are infused with the magic of mythology and folklore, as they work to combine a psycho-geography of Hawai’i with an intimate geography of the female body. Kakimoto, who lives in Honolulu and is of Japanese / Kānaka Maoli (native Hawaiian) heritage, sets out her intention at the beginning, listing ‘A Catalogue of Kānaka Superstitions, as Told by Your Mother.’ She uses Hawaiian words throughout, although there isn’t a glossary; she’s not writing for haoles. (That’s the rest of us, by the way – non-indigenous Hawaiians). 


There are lots of Kānaka superstitions – don’t smash a mo’o (a gecko) with your flip-flop because it could be an incarnation of a dead relative. Same for moths. Don’t whistle at night, sleep with your feet by the door, or your head by an open window. Don’t drive over the haunted Pali cliff road with pork in the car.


The stories begin with a young woman who drives over the haunted Pali road with pork in the car; the narrative, thick with menstrual blood, sees her give birth to something unexpected. Another young woman, Kehaulani, discovers an unusual kind of payment taken at Miss Amelia’s Salon, where she goes at the behest of her white boyfriend to be intimately waxed. A 13-year-old girl misses her mother as she is taken by her gran to a sacred fertility rock on Molokai – she feels alienated from this ancient part of her heritage and longs to return to the city. In ‘Madwomen’, a mother turns into a sea monster – or does she?


The most metafictional of the stories is ‘Aiko, the Writer’, where a Kānaka writer wrestles with writing about the mythological Night Marchers – the deadly ghosts of tribal Hawaiian warriors – as she attends a literary event in Austin, Texas. Her grandmother has warned her not to write about anything kapu – forbidden, sacred. ‘There are ways to tell Hawaiian stories and ways to make Hawaiian stories vulnerable to the white hand,’ says her grandmother, transformed into a gecko after her death. She adds, ‘Don’t bother with accessibility. Even when you write white, the white readers won’t make sense of it… Be exacting and specific… Most importantly, honour the kapu.’ Aiko, ignoring this advice, has written a whole collection about the Night Marchers. In her briefcase, her manuscript vibrates. Thrums. Rattles and shakes with its forbidden content.   


Kakimoto’s collection does the same, humming with originality, vivid and unapologetic. Startling.