Author Stefhen F.D. Bryan describes his fascinating narrative of sexual conquest and cultural adventure as an ‘erotic ethnographic memoir’. Written with a mixture of introspection and braggadocio ‘Black Passenger Yellow Cabs’ is a somewhat confessional, somewhat boastful accounting of a sex addict’s journey towards self-control, maturity and marriage in a strange, far-off land.
Subtitled 'Of Exile and Excess in Japan' Bryan takes us from his formative sexual experiences in an East Kingston Dunkirk Ghetto to the realization of his erotic fantasies in the cities and villages of the Far East. Much of the book is a chronicle of bedded Asian women, with objectifying language that is frequently, and purposely, unsettling. He occasionally refers to women as ‘prey’, in the parlance of the hypersexual. He doesn’t apologize for these adventures, he merely presents them, introspectively searching for clues to his own psyche. Abused as a child, abandoned by the father who conceived him while raping his mother, buried in poverty, Mr. Bryant is damaged and harrowed by life, suffering from years of suicidal thoughts. Yet he manages to graduate from UCLA and move to Japan for a “fresh start”. There he finds himself, eventually shrugging off the yoke of lust and entering into a monogamous relationship with a Japanese woman. Marriage agrees with him and the book ends, and the reader is left to wonder if a moral has been gleamed.
Engagingly written, the book puts one in mind of the episodic romantic fixations of Henri-Pierre Roché's ‘Jules et Jim’. His illuminating analysis of Japanese mores and culture recalls the ‘I am a camera’ dispassionate observations of Isherwood’s ‘Berlin Stories’. And like those two (semi) autobiographical books there is no neat denouement to be found here. The journey is the thing. Whether in the end you are left appalled or forgiving of Mr. Bryan’s womanizing you will have read a life examined told with verve and intelligence, and there is value in that. If the point of storytelling is less to moralize and more to hold up a mirror to the human condition ‘Black Passenger Yellow Cabs’ is a well polished mirror.
If you hurry you can not only get the author to sign a copy of the book but also watch him perform his fascinating autobiographical one man show ‘Doodu Boy’ playing though February 23 at The Santa Monica Playhouse. Though inspired by his book the play’s larger arc concerns itself more with its ‘missing chapter’, the journey to know and understand his father. Mr. Bryan’s performance is as spare and direct as his prose, and frequently as harrowing.