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WHAT THE MAID SAW: Eight Psychic Tales by Yasutaka Tsutsui

WHAT THE MAID SAW: Eight Psychic Tales

By Yasutaka Tsutsui

Pub Date: July 1st, 1990
Publisher: Kodansha--dist. by Farrar, Straus & Giroux

Eight psychic stories about a mind-reading housemaid, the first book to be published in English by a prolific Japanese author with a large following in his homeland. Tsutsui has an original idea, but his variations on it do not deliver the depth or hoped-for powerful effect they might have. Eighteen-year-old Nanase Hita is a high-school graduate whose late father had strong ESP powers. Hers are even stronger. When she ""unlatches"" her mind, she can read minds not only in the same room but in neighboring rooms and even for longer distances as people drive off in cars. She has read J.B. Rhine and his fellow American researchers on ESP but is fearful of others discovering this ability, which she has had since childhood. She hides it, almost like an illness, by taking jobs as a housemaid rather than entering a labor market starved for high-school graduates. Unfortunately for her, the households she enters almost invariably have families involved in adultery, lechery or some kind of venery that disturbs her so greatly that she must move on to a new household. All of her mind-reading takes place in the italicized thoughts of others, a device that is at first interesting but that goes nowhere since most of the thoughts she reads are obsessively repetitive. Perhaps the most unusual tale is that of a Sunday painter, a husband who sees his wife and everyone else in geometric patterns for his abstract expressionist canvases. None of these little household dramas can match one minute of an Ozu film, which might often palpate the small agonies of an unmarried virgin daughter, nor does Tsutsui's mild erotic overlay go much beyond Maupassant's a century ago. Only the last story, about a mother's premature burial, wherein Nanase hears the mother's mind in the coffin awaken on her way into the crematory fire, has the kind of Stephen King sting or Poe-like lift that Tsutsui may have been seeking. Younger readers will find this livelier than older folks, for whom Tsutsui has little new news about the sexes--or about ESP.