David Fletcher is an American who is starting a new life as a teacher in Japan. He leaves behind him his loving and supportive mother, but also a failed relationship with his girlfriend and his abusive father. In Japan he goes through many transformations: he finds a culture and job that he embraces, he overcomes his traumatic memories of his father and learns to forgive him and he falls in love with a Japanese woman named Yoshie. But all his love and newly discovered strengths may not be enough to overcome her struggles against her own personal demons.
In Rising Sunsets author D.H. Cermeno’s protagonist David Fletcher is escaping a stifling life and relationships in America to re-discover himself in a foreign land is a plot with promise. Though there are some odd sentence structures, the first chapters and flashbacks leading up to Fletcher’s presence in Japan are enticing and hopeful.
Cermeno effectively portrays Fletcher’s loving and supporting relationship with his mother. Fletcher’s relationship with his father is evident and heartfelt, but the frequency of his flashbacks into his memories of his father become counterproductive to the story, while flashbacks of his relationship with his ex girlfriend don’t add much to the plot and are disruptive to the general flow of the story.
Cermeno also hints at his lack of trust in his reader when Fletcher spells things out rather than letting the reader deduce it from the descriptions and story: “I truly am a foreigner in a country with a different set of rules and cultural norms.” Also, “This is just like my mother’s life, and she was forced to leave her marriage to find happiness and respect” and “Everything was going so well, and in no time at all, all the ingredients needed for my recipe of happiness were flushed down the toilet of life. Now I have no job, I am losing the one woman I love, as well as out child.” Many times, such summary-like thoughts appear after Cermeno has already explained or alluded to the situation in the story.
Fletcher’s experiences and observations of Japan through tourist eyes and his assimilation into the Japanese culture capture a variety of nuances from everyday life in Japan; the picturesque street settings, tidbits about Japanese language and culture. However, author D.H. Cermeno’s descriptions, lack fresh details: “The sun kissed they myriad rice fields that dotted the countryside…the cherry blossoms were in bloom, and the hills were covered and dotted with precious pink flowers.” Later Cermeno writes: “the train trudged along the river where small rice paddies dotted the countryside…” The repetitions of the same words and itinerary-type formulas to describe travels around the country minimize the uniqueness of his character’s experience and form somewhat stereotypical images of Japan.
This lack of freshness is also seen in Cermeno’s characters, which are somewhat flat and inconsistent. This is especially true of his supporting character Yoshie and the antagonist Yamaguchi-san. Fletcher continually emphasizes the cultural restrictions on Japanese women and social rules yet Yoshie willingly and blatantly shares a hotel room with Fletcher before they are in a relationship, when she won’t even hold his hand in public when they are in a relationship; Fletcher also talks about the culture of ‘losing face’, yet Yamaguchi-san has no concern about this in his treatment of office staff, or his superiors or shirking his job – refusing to translate an important document following the death of a coworker.
Cermeno’s portrayal of Yamaguchi-san’s hatred for Americans is also somewhat cliché. Yamaguchi’s boss explains the hatred exists because “when the Americans dropped the bomb on Hiroshima, the rest of his family died.” While the all-too-simple explanation of Yamaguchi’s hatred for Americans, is baldly explained rather than perhaps revealed in the course of the story is unconvincing, what was more peculiar is the response that Fletcher has to this revelation: “Doi-sensei, don’t they see, I’m not here to take anything away? If anything, I want to give the community as much as I can. Why must they generalize the entire U.S. population?’ Fletcher seems to have unconsciously done what he just accused Yamaguchi-san of doing – generalizing the entire Japanese population under “they.”
Rising Sunsets has many promising and intriguing story elements set against a colorful back drop, however, the undeveloped characters and cliché plot are unconvincing and take away from the positive aspects of the novel.
Reviewed by Maya Fleischmann for IndieReader.com 2012