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PENANCE by Kanae Minato


by Kanae Minato ; translated by Philip Gabriel

Pub Date: April 11th, 2017
ISBN: 978-0-316-34915-4
Publisher: Mulholland Books/Little, Brown

A grieving parent and four guilt-stricken friends struggle to cope with the rape and strangulation of a 10-year-old girl.

Japanese author Minato follows up her successful U.S. debut (Confessions, 2014) with a second twisted tale of retribution and regret. Sae, Maki, Yuka, Akiko, and Emily are playing ball when a stranger lures away Emily with a request for help. She fails to return to the game, and that evening, the girls discover her corpse. Incredibly, no one can remember the perpetrator’s face, and he goes uncaught. Three years pass before Emily’s imperious mother, Asako, summons the girls to her home. She faults them for what happened and demands that they either catch Emily’s killer or perform an act of penance. If they do neither, she’ll exact revenge. Twelve years later, as the statute of limitations for Emily’s murder is about to expire, Sae, Maki, Yuka, and Akiko give their accounts of the tragedy and describe how Emily’s death and Asako’s threat have ruined their lives. While the tales take different forms—one is a letter, another a speech—and each contains a uniquely disturbing twist, they all retread much the same ground. Minato’s characters are psychologically complex, but their rambling narrations lack immediacy, and though a note from Asako ties off several loose ends to devastating effect, a toothless epilogue undercuts the story’s psychological impact.

Despite an intriguing premise and some shocking reveals, Minato’s latest ultimately succumbs to monotony and bloat.