Exploring the darkness under life’s brittle surface
They are the scenes of ordinary life: a mother stopping by the neighborhood bakery to purchase two strawberry shortcakes for her son’s birthday, an aspiring writer toiling over a manuscript in a spare apartment, a young woman preparing dinner for her beau, a woman spying on her husband’s mistress.
Yet in Yoko Ogawa’s story collection, “Revenge: Eleven Dark Tales,” those ordinary exteriors are merely brittle shells that crack open to reveal darkness, death and despair. Woven through the 11 interconnected tales is a thread of the grotesque, the macabre, the mournful.
The mother’s errand turns out to be a paean to inconsolable loss. The writer emerges as an unhinged character that evokes both love and pity. The amorous young woman finds herself entwined in both a murder scene and a museum dedicated to torture.
Ogawa, a prolific author whose work has appeared in The New Yorker and Harper’s Magazine, laces her stories with gruesome murders, exotic animals and peculiar events. Her language is both spare and searingly precise, crystallizing the details of everyday existence and capturing the unexpected shock of the bizarre.
In “Sewing for the Heart,” for example, the narrator is a bag-maker who has been contracted to create a purse for a beating heart. The client is a cabaret singer who was born with the organ outside her chest. The narrator gasps in awe at the sight and utters an oddly erotic ode to the throbbing muscle: “What extraordinary, breathtaking beauty! .?.?. I wanted to run my fingertips over each tiny bump and furrow, touch my lips to the veins, soft tissue on soft tissue, the pressure of her pulse against my skin.”
Ogawa’s haunting prose may not be to everyone’s taste, but readers willing to explore the murkier edges of the human psyche will not be disappointed. AP
Revenge: Eleven Dark Tales
Author: Yoko Ogawa, Stephen Snyder
Genre: Mystery fiction