In her first collection of stories Watanabe has created such winning characters and so provocatively superimposed the ancient and modern worlds of her native Hawaii that the short short-story form cannot always contain them: had she interlocked the stories in one narrative, her book might have been even more compelling.
As it is, some stories are better than others—but the best are terrific. "The Ghost of Fred Astaire," for example, is the compelling tale of a Japanese-American tap dancer who escaped the horrors of WW II by running off to San Francisco, changing her name to Mi Ho Min and getting a job as a cabaret dancer in Chinatown, scandalizing her family. It is both funny and knowing—about the power of lifelong dreams. "Emiko's Garden" and "Certainly" are similarly wise about the meaning of marriage and of home.
Even the lesser pieces have that moments—a poetic line, a keen observation. Perhaps Watanabe will hone these powers further in the novel she is working on. (Doubleday, $20)