I've mentioned before that my friend Ed at Vertical hooks me up with a steady string of awesome Japanese works in translation--the small publisher's stock in trade. I always wanna be up front with personal connections to the books I write about, back-scratchin' in book-reviewin' being what it is . . . but c'mon, I'm not gonna not write about books I like! Here are three.
Pro Bono, Seicho Matsumoto: While I think I'd shelve this 1961 novel (filmed multiple times in Japan, most recently in 2010) in Mystery, it's not a whodunit or even a procedural--the story really starts where most mysteries end, and spirals out from there into deep, dark, uncomfortable greatness. It begins when a young woman from the provinces arrives at hotshot Tokyo lawyer Keiichi Abe's office, pleading with him to take the case of her older brother, arrested for murder, whom she believes is innocent. But she can't pay his fees, and he's preoccupied anyway about meeting up with his lover for a round of golf and adultery, so he turns her down. Her brother is convicted, and dies in prison waiting for his appeal; Abe finds himself drawn back to the case after it's too late. Pro Bono is about injustice, inaction, and the uselessness of remorse--and eventually, about revenge. First-rate!
Naoko, Keigo Higashino: And then there's this novel, which I'd shelve under . . . uh, is Unsettling Body-Switching Gender-Role-Exploring Coming-of-Age a genre? No? Can we not make it one, because Naoko simultaneously creates and perfects the concept? Great!
Anyway, to elaborate: after Heisuke's wife, Naoko, and 11-year-old daughter, Monami, are in a terrible bus accident, the latter wakes from a coma claiming--convincingly--to be the former. When they return home, Naoko/Monami finds herself living two lives, the junior high student and the dutiful housewife (because it doesn't even occur to Heisuke that maybe he should lend a hand with dinner while she does her homework, argh): until she realizes she wants more from her daughter's life than she achieved in her own. Heisuke, used to taking his authority as father and husband for granted, is baffled and outraged by her struggle for independence, and the conflict heightens as she matures in body as in mind. So creepy and weird in all the right ways!
Speaking of which . . . Flowers of Evil, Volume 3, Shuzo Oshimi (out October 23): OH MAN. This terrific manga series just keeps ramping up the queasy-making adolescent sexuality and psychological manipulation and small-town boredom and decadent-author-worship to new heights, and I'm totally in love with it. But I would not let it date my son.