Review of “Piercing”by Ryu MurakamibyMungoParkIII©
While Japanese literature in the late twentieth century did not produce the Angry Young Man phenomenon, nor did it go through a beat or even psychedelic phase like American fiction, a group of Japanese writers have gained fame though questioning the materialism of society and considering some alternatives to the status quo in Japan. Two of the best known of these authors are Haruki Murakami and Ryu Murakami. Ryu, who is not related to Haruki, while not as well known or popular, has made a significant name for himself in Japan for his dark and surrealistic visions of a decadent country.
In Ryu Murakami's earlier works: Almost Transparent Blue (winner of Japan's most prestigious literary prize, the Akutagawa prize in 1976), Coin Locker Babies and In the Miso Soup the characters seemed to fit in the decadence. In Piercing Murakami introduces Kawashima Masayuki a seemingly normal man suffering from insomnia as he looks at his sleeping wife and their newborn daughter. Using a penlight he ponders his child, wondering if his insomnia is hereditary, considering the thought of an infant insomniac. While this idyllic scene is far from the decadence in his other books, Murakami quickly pierces the tranquility with a frightening image.
While looking over the baby, Kawashima reaches into his pocket and pulls out an ice pick which he passes back and forth over the infant. He is testing himself, this seemingly normal husband and father is trying to see if he has the urge to plunge the ice pick into his daughter. Murakami, through Kawashima's memories, begins to reveal his character's twisted past, a past where he had stabbed his previous girlfriend with an ice pick. The stabbing, which was not fatal, was not committed out of anger, more out of an urge simply to plunge the tool into the woman. Kawashima now fears he will soon feel that urge to stab his wife or daughter.
Several days later, in a vision while grocery shopping, Kawashima talks to a man who advises him that the only way he can be sure he will not feel the urge to stab his wife or child would be to find another person to stab. Convinced he has found a cure to his problem, he arranges to take some time off from work and away from his family, a practice common and often encouraged in Japan. He begins make plans, deciding he will find a prostitute and stab her with an ice pick. Unlike the earlier stabbing of his girlfriend, he realizes he will need to kill his victim this time since that is the only way he could then safely return to his "normal' life.
Murakami convincingly weaves Kawashima's actions as he goes to Tokyo to complete his plan, drawing the reader as he tries to works out a foolproof plan, even as he fumbles his way through a trial run with an older prostitute, wanting to see what the experience might be like so he could properly prepare. The situation with the older prostitute was believable and enticing, though not overtly graphic. By the time Kawashima is ready to enact his plan, Murakami has drawn the reader into the situation and character enough that the planned murder almost seems reasonable. Kawashima's detailed planning becomes a source of comfort as the reader's concern focuses on getting him though the seemingly inevitable act and safely back to his family.
At this point the story could have followed the young father though this random act and delivered him and the reader back safely to his family, but Murakami introduces the victim. Chiaki is a prostitute who specializes in S&M scenes with her clients. She is gifted at her craft for reasons examined in detail as Murakami draws the reader into another apparently disturbed individual. As the author delves into Chiaki's personality and kinks, suddenly this random and faceless murder becomes personal. Two disturbed, but very likeable characters are about to come together in an explosive way as their inner demons take over.
By this time, Murakami has artfully vested his reader's emotions into each character so that every word they speak, every action they take, and every thing that happens potentially could either save or destroy one or both of the characters. As Kawashima checks into the hotel, his bag packed with the ice pick the foreboding sense of disaster grows. It continues to grow as he meets and brings Chiaki with her bag of toys back to his room until the book is absolutely impossible to put down. With each page following the two as they slip in and out of alter egos and emotional states, the reader is tossed into the chaos of dementia.
Murakami masterfully suspends the drama, dangling readers, teasing them as each character slips from absolute evil back to becoming a potential hero. At one point in time Chiaki's mental state leads her to mistake Kawashima for a man who had saved her from some difficult incidents in her past, only to realize later that he has something special planned for her, something involving the ice pick. Of course, Kawashima also finds that Chiaki, even with her masochistic desires, would not become an easy or willing participant to his plan.
While the Literotica reader only looking for some stroke would be well advised to pass on this book, those readers looking for a psychological thriller with powerful sexual situations will find this book hard to put down. Murakami is a master at taking even the most naïve readers into the depths of decadence and depravity and with Piercing he develops such an empathy with the characters that his readers flash through the pages of the book, wading into the muck just to see if anyone survives. What Sharon Stone did for the ice pick in movies, Murakami has clearly done for it in print. I highly recommend this book. Piercing was translated from Japanese by Ralph McCarthy. The book is available in paperback format from Amazon(dot)Com and other booksellers.