RANSOM by Jay Mclnerney


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Christopher Ransom is a young American gaijin (Westerner) in Kyoto, parked there after an ethically dubious Asian-trek of self-revelation and rebellion, now studying karate with earnestness and generally hanging out with other expatriates when he's not making money teaching English to comically unsure Mitsubishi middle-managers. Ransom's father, back in Los Angeles, is a schlock TV producer who was once a promising playwright; his abdication is a central emotional trauma in his son's life, and the son's Japanese residency the same for the father. What plot there is here basically is powered by this: the father trying to get Ransom home through devious (and ultimately catastrophic) means--a series of slow-moving complications involving a paid actress, a yakuza mobster, and a psychopathic American. Story, however, isn't McInerney's strong suit. Atmosphere (as readers of his previous book, Bright Lights, Big City, will know) is--an atmosphere of hip attitudes. Thus the most leavening feature of the book is the funny transcription of the vagaries of Japanese mispronunciation of American English: a gaijin friend of Ransom, in fact, goes so far as to open up a Western boot shop in Kyoto and call it ""Hormone Derange""--to conform with standard Japanese pronunciation. There are some tart asides (on French Catholicism: ""Pomp plus bread plus wine. It's a wonder they haven't added cheese to the service"")--but they don't serve to sharpen a single character. Like Brad Leithauser's recent, similarly-set novel, Mclnerney's book has a kind of blank Yuppie sell-sufficiency to it that makes for tame fiction. Ransom is reminiscent of a Thomas McGuane character written 20 years later: maybe less callow but as aimless, whimsical, sentimental, and fuzzy. The lope of the style is attractive, but finally the book is a piece of easy-reading fluff.

Pub Date: Sept. 10th, 1985
Publisher: Vintage/Random House