TURNING JAPANESE by David Galef

TURNING JAPANESE

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Galef’s second (Flesh, 1995) is about a young American who goes abroad to find himself, in a novel that’s likely to sweep readers up only sporadically. Cricket Collins (his mother, who died when he was a boy, named him) is 22 when he gains his father’s disapproval by deferring law school and going to Japan instead to teach English (mainly to businessmen). Once he’s there, things aren—t propitious for those who want to like a book’s protagonist, since Cricket seems shallow and callow at once’so hostile, for example, toward the kindly but admittedly maternal dorm mother (where he first lives) that he turns to petty thievery as a way to offend her and change things. It’s gradually revealed that something deeper must be amiss with Cricket—an emotional scar left by his mother’s death? He stays in Japan far longer than he—d intended, begins learning the language in earnest, even finds a girlfriend, named Reiko—with whom (as with anyone, except himself), we discover, he can never reach orgasm, though this is a secret he lets nobody know. —Craziness and cancer,— Cricket’s father told him, run in the family—and Cricket’s attempt to escape the latter gets so curiously lost amid the steadily, slowly, ongoingly amassed details of life in Japan that the reader has little sight of purpose or of focus on the quest, sensing only the waiting, not even clearly for what. There are customs, cooking, eating, shopping, teaching, the half-marooned doings of other expats. Only very late does the novel try to declare and seize its theme (as when Cricket’s health falls apart, in a riveting trip to China), but even then there’s little sense of an organic unity—as opposed to a unity of convenience—between travelogue on the one hand and psychological journey on the other. Ambitious work, though place and person remain merely congruent, not welded, with an unsatisfying inertness as the result.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1998
ISBN: 1-57962-010-8
Page count: 240pp
Publisher: Permanent Press
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15th, 1998




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