A lively translation of postwar stories from Kono (1926-2015), a Japanese master of the unsettling.
There is a moment in the collection’s penultimate story, “Conjurer,” when the protagonist, Hisako, thinks back to a fight she witnessed between her married friends. They were vehemently arguing about whether a magic show they’d seen was real, and Hisako agreed to buy a ticket to the show to help settle their dispute. As she ponders the couple, she thinks, “They’d been forced to acknowledge something in each of them and also something about their very relationship that they’d been unconsciously avoiding, and, forced to become aware of it, they felt betrayed.” This moment shines a light backward on the rest of the collection: Kono’s specialty is this avoidance of the unconscious and the moments when the darkness of her characters’ psyches finally spills out. In the title story, a childless woman balances a violent misanthropy with an obsession with very young boys. In the opener, “Night Journey,” a couple walks across town to visit friends with whom they’ve tentatively agreed to swap spouses. The Twilight Zone–esque “Final Moments” explores what happens when a woman bargains with death for an extra 26 hours to live. In “Bone Meat,” a woman whose boyfriend has left her becomes increasingly haunted by seemingly mundane objects—clothes, oyster shells—that push her toward destruction. Kono, who died in 2015, structures most of her stories similarly, with an unsettling flashback at the center of a story told in chronological time to show the ways that the dark seeds of our actions are planted, often unwittingly. And though the structures of the stories repeat and the protagonists resemble each other, each story unburies something that feels both thrillingly specific and surprisingly contemporary.
Kono should be an electrifying discovery for English-speaking lovers of short fiction.