What lingers like a nightmare? The creeped-out feeling that bleeds into daylight, turning even ordinary things — strawberry shortcake or a dead hamster — into portents from the dark side. That's what Japanese writer Yoko Ogawa deals in, using mundane items to convey a kind of dreamy terror, in Revenge, a collection of 11 loosely connected "dark tales" (translated by Stephen Snyder). In the hands of Ogawa, a Shirley Jackson Award recipient and finalist for the Man Asian Literary Prize, these items become signifiers of doom and decay, touchstones for haunted characters who could have walked, quite coolly, out of a Joyce Carol Oates or Koji Suzuki creation.
A mother waits at a bakery to purchase a birthday treat for her long-dead son. A gardening landlady shares her strange harvest with her tenants. A tourist, a writer, a craftsman, and that old lady again — or is it someone else? — wander through grim dreamscapes, sharing memories and desires, often for that title urge for retaliation, prompted only by the need to be heard, to be understood.
It's the intimacy of these stories, like a hideous secret shared with a perfect stranger, that makes them moving. What gives them their power are the details — the perfectly imagined confection, or the recurring stray cat slipping around a corner. It's as if the author has done an inventory of everyday life, calculating how such simple things as a piece of fruit can evoke horror. By the time she builds up to the truly macabre, dread has come to seem normal, and death — of a small pet, a zoo tiger, a relative, or the self — almost a welcome release. This is a short book, but not a light one. And it's not recommended for bedtime reading.
REVENGE: ELEVEN DARK TALES By Yoko Ogawa :: Picador :: 176 page [paper] :: $14
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