The nine interconnected stories in this novella, set in a small Japanese town, center on a suicide.
In a seaside town, a nameless inspector investigates a dead body, presumably a suicide. The jaded, grumpy inspector wants to solve the mystery, mostly so he can best his colleague. But, as le Grange (Wolsely, 2014) shows in this novella, human beings hold on hard to their secrets, lies, hopes, and fantasies. Each chapter explores a different character’s point of view that illuminates for the reader, if not for the inspector, how the suicide came about, beginning with Tamika’s story. She’s a high school girl who is being prostituted by her mother; the family needs money because Tamika’s father is dying of cancer and her brother just started college. Tamika’s mother tries to be “the driving force behind [her son’s] success” and feels justified in prostituting her daughter: “It had to be done. Women had to make sacrifices sometimes in their lives.” The old woman who saw the suicide’s body hit the ground is preoccupied with hating her daughter-in-law. Kenji is a university student in love with the handsome but unreliable Jotaro. Tamika’s father is as tormented by regrets as he is by the cancer eating him alive. Tamika’s client is a frustrated salaryman. Tamika’s brother feels burdened by familial responsibilities and humiliated by social failures. For all these characters, whatever their dreams may have been, le Grange shows that their realities are powerless and sordid. Tamika’s client, for example, is on his first visit to a prostitute, encouraged by a colleague’s tales of exciting, obedient girls. But everything about the encounter—the rules, the cost, the girl’s quietness, his feeling like an intruder—disquiets him: “This was so not how he had imagined this.” Even tender moments, as when Tamika gently washes her father’s face, seem only to stoke despair and regret. Le Grange handles these moments with subtlety, tracing out the connections his characters cannot see—which adds to the stories’ brutal ironies.
Pain, loneliness, humiliation, and grief underlie these atomized, broken lives.