Friday, July 25, 2008

Thank Heavens I Live in a Land of Pixies and Unicorns

A few months ago I wrote about Natsuo Kirino's Grotesque, which I found disturbing and yet compelling. As promised then, I've had my eye out for the release of her new book, which finally happened July 15th. The book is called Real World and, not surprisingly, I found it disturbing and compelling. My only complaint with it is that it isn't long enough, only 207 pages. The last time that I read a book so slim, I was the age of the characters in this book.

There are five teenagers at the center of this novel, four female friends and the boy next door who ruins their lives. Worm, the boy next door, is a dark, little, twisted creature that I never really got a good grasp on. I'm not sure if he's psychotic or just pressed too hard against the wall of growing up, but it's clear that he's a sociopath. He begins the story by killing his mother with a baseball bat, very calmly leaving his house and heading off for a life on the run. Along the way, he steals his neighbor's bike and cellphone.

When Toshi, Worm's neighbor, hears about the crime, she realizes that she has key information, having witnessed the noise made by the murder and Worm's calm departure from the house. However, she decides to lie to the police and her family and continues to protect him throughout the novel. It's not as if they are friends; she barely knows him and doesn't like what she does know but cheers for his escape due to her own psychological demons.

All the teens in this book are hanging on to society's edges with one tiny claw. There's Yanzu who receives the first call from Worm, using Toshi's stolen cellphone. Yanzu is struggling to find a comfortable place uniting her family life and school friends with her underground life as a lesbian. She is the first to help Worm by providing him with a new cellphone and bike and returning the stolen ones.

Kirinin has problems with her sexuality as well. By day, a happy go lucky, innocent schoolgirl but every night she goes to Seedyville and has as much casual sex and she can before morning. She becomes fascinated with the idea of the rebel Worm and runs off to join him. She wants a new life and he seems the perfect answer. Unfortunately, he is not what she thought and things end badly.

Our best hope for a normal view of teenage Japan seems to be Terauchi. She is bright, studious, seemingly well grounded and sane. She rejects Worm's attempts to draw her into his drama - outright rejection at first, later playing coy to keep things under control once Kirinin joins him. But her life is just as angsty as the next kid's. She is contemptuous of her schoolwork and her family has created a situation for her that is intolerable. Her calm exterior just covers the lack of life that lies within.

Things come to a head and our teens start falling like dominoes. Kirino's point is that the culture around teens is very unhealthy and it's amazing any of them make it out unscathed. Toshi rants against commercialism. Worm seems to be burdened and yet under the spell of Japan's military history. Terauchi's childhood innocence has been destroyed by a social structure that demands scholastic excellence. Kirinin's problems clearly come from all the sexual crosscurrents that buffet her (and us) daily.

Natsuo Kirino's books get classified as Mystery in bookstores but I'm not so sure that they should. The mystery at the heart of her novels is not "Who did the crime and will he/she be caught?" It is the mystery of what goes on inside us that makes us act as we do and that's what I love about her books, the inner darkness of the human mind.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Thoroughly Modern Beepy

The most astute of you may have noticed that I haven't been around for awhile. Let me explain that. About two months ago I was resting on my rock, dreaming of all the books that Cap'n Ahab would be bring me, when I was approached by the demon Ursula. The deal was made in minutes and it has taken me all this time to wrestle my voice back from her. Let that be a warning to all of us.

So now to business. Back in January I offered a free meal to anyone who bet against me reading two books per week this year. Silly readers, you'd all be sated and sighing if you'd taken me up on my bet. But July is the halfway point of the year and it seems to me a good point to cut my losses and start again. There will be no free meals this time unless someone decides to feed me.
Ursula has taught me to be relentless.

My "New Year" begins with a memoir by Josh Kilmer-Purcell called I Am Not Myself These Days. Mr. Kilmer-Purcell lived a double-careered life in New York City. By day he was a hungover adman, by night she was a drunken drag queen named Aqua. I got a kick out of both lives.

Now a few of you might be wondering why I would waste my time on fluffy memoirs, but I think that if you really give it some thought, you'll realize that I've been attempting to live as a woman for years. If you add to that the fact that both JK-P and I enjoy waking up with strange men, I think that it will all become clear to you.

Anyway, this photo is of Aquadisiac. If you look very carefully you will notice that her breasts are clear little bowls containing goldfish. Living goldfish! Why didn't I think of that? Now we all understand why there is a goldfish on the cover of the book.

The book covers the period of a few months (about eight or nine if I remember correctly) that JK-P shared his life with a male prostitute whom he calls Jack. Jack meets a drunken Aqua one night and takes her home. Aqua meets Jack the next day when Jack returns her clothes to a hungover Josh at his ad agency. It's a storybook romance that should be read to all little girls before they go to sleep at night.

Soon the two are in love and moving in together. Jack is a very successful male prostitute, seeming to deal mostly in S&M; he wears his beeper at all times and occasionally brings clients to the apartment for the weekend. Otherwise, he seems to be the perfect boyfriend - gentle, loving, supportive, freely doling out gifts and love notes. He worries about Josh's drinking, orders in breakfast for two every morning and even refuses to have sex with Josh until the relationship is ready. Josh continues on with his day job and Aqua's night life and wonders how he got so lucky. If it weren't for the prologue which has Jack standing over a sleeping JK-P with a knife, I'd nominate this for Romance of the Year.

Yes, you read it right, "with a knife", a giant machete-like knife by the way. Somewhere down the line, Jack has become addicted to crack (a whore addicted to crack - Stop the Presses) and is now a violent maniac. I'm being a bit sassy here; his descent isn't as sudden as I make it out to be. There are a lot of broken promises, false steps and ruined fresh starts (if you're thinking it's kinda like my blog, shaddup!) and eventually Jack and Josh split. Josh has moved on to a stable relationship, a good job and life as a full time man. Jack? Who knows but we wish him well.

If you can't tell by what I've written so far, this book entertained the hell out of me. It was a peek inside a world I'll never get to see. There was, for example, an illuminating description of the process of becoming a woman (a hint - it involves a lot of shaving), smoking crack, dealing with drunken men wanting to touch your - er - goldfish, etc. I also learned a bit about the pain there is involved in being a drag queen and I'm not just talking the tucking away of inconvenient bits and pieces or winching a corset up to rib crushing tightness. Our no-holds barred author describes a gruesome drag act in which a 300lb. queen shoots M&M's out her ass. That's real pain. (If, by the way, that's the scene that entices you to read I Am Not Myself These Days, I don't want to know about it, okay? We really don't know each other well enough.)