In Erickson’s debut novel, a woman’s dark past threatens to surface and cause trouble in her current, privileged life.
Following her college graduation in 1992, Elle moves to Tokyo to teach English. She immediately meets Mitch, another American, and the two become close, bonding over their shared love of 1980s rock music. After being fired from teaching, Elle takes a job as a hostess and meets Tak, an alluring, wealthy Japanese man. After they start dating, Tak becomes abusive; Elle soon finds herself involved in his illegal drug business and threatened by his seedy colleagues. She also tries to be a supportive friend to Mitch, who’s dealing with his own struggles. In 2017, Elle is a wealthy, suburban wife and a mother to two teenagers: socially conscious, outspoken Brynnie and sporty, somewhat clueless Four. However, she harbors many anxieties—about her body and her marriage to tech company CEO Win Martin, for example—and is disillusioned with the superficial politics and helicopter parenting at Country Day, her kids’ elite school. Brynnie’s question to her (“Are you happy, Mom? Are you living your dream?”) often echoes in her mind. When Win suggests that they all accompany him on a Tokyo business trip, Elle is forced to confront her former life. She goes on to face dangerous figures from her past and painful, disturbing truths. The story alternates between the 1990s and the present. Throughout, Erickson reveals details about Elle’s upbringing, including her relationship with her neglectful mother and the impact that her baby brother’s death has had on her life. As a result, Elle comes across as a complex, multifaceted protagonist. The author deftly balances the plot’s heavier elements, including drug use and physical abuse, with borderline satirical situations, such as the absurdly inappropriate behavior of Country Day parents. Since childhood, Elle has sought direction from songs, relying on their lyrics to dictate how events in her life will play out, so the author frequently includes music references in the text. Perhaps due to the comprehensive back story, the plot’s resolution feels abrupt, and it would have been interesting to see the residual effects of some events.
An often entertaining and suspenseful read.