A thriller that takes the reader from academia in Los Angeles to the nuclear disaster at Fukushima.
Daidai is taking a leave of absence as a museum curator while she’s trying to conceive. Her husband, Hiroshi, continues to work as a professor. At a party for graduate students, Daidai meets Satsuki, who has just arrived in Los Angeles. Even though she’s convinced that Satsuki is interested in her husband, Daidai is, herself, seduced by this beguiling woman. Satsuki is both a fascinating distraction and a chance to connect with Japanese culture—which is something Daidai, a Japanese-American woman raised in the United States, craves. But a death at a local Catholic monastery makes her wonder what she really knows about her new friend. Psychological thrillers often rely on a disconnect between a protagonist’s ordinary life and the extraordinary circumstances in which she finds herself. Bored and frustrated, Daidai is perfectly situated both to fall for a charismatic stranger and to become obsessed with her secrets. But Shigekuni’s (Unending Nora, 2008, etc.) writing flattens the contrast between Daidai’s reality before and after Satsuki. Descriptions of setting and action tend to be vague to the point of opacity. For example, very early in the novel, Daidai has an encounter with a strange man while shopping for groceries in Little Tokyo. She's so startled when he speaks to her that she makes him stumble, and their interaction, apparently, causes a tear in the heavy bag of rice she’s carrying. But there’s no obvious moment of impact; physical contact is mostly implied. It’s difficult to visualize what actually happens during this encounter. Emotional states and relationships are equally hard to divine. The stranger she meets in Little Tokyo is still carrying the torn bag of rice when Daidai runs into the little brother of the friend she’s planning to meet for lunch. There are suggestions that she finds him attractive, but there’s no way to understand how important this information is. These are not isolated incidents but, rather, indicative of the novel’s style throughout. This leaves the reader feeling off-kilter from the start, which diminishes the impact of real mystery entering Daidai’s life. Satsuki would be more compellingly enigmatic if there weren’t so many gaps and elisions in Shigekuni’s worldbuilding and character development.
Like many “literary” authors before her, Shigekuni borrows genre-fiction tropes without knowing how to make them work.