SUMMER, FIREWORKS, AND MY CORPSE by Otsuichi
Haikasoru, 2010, 350 pages, 978-1-4215-3644-6, Trade paperback, $14.99
Before Halloween rolled around, I thought it might be a good idea to get festive with my reading. A dose of dark fantasy from Haikasoru’s Otsuichi seemed like just the thing to add a bit of creepiness to my celebration.
Overall, I think fans of this genre will enjoy this collection of stories. It’s classically Japanese in every way–whether that’s a draw or a turn off will depend on the individual reader. For me, it was an indicator of what to expect, and on that level it didn’t disappoint.
The first story, “Summer, Fireworks, and My Corpse,” (which is a brilliant title, in my opinion), is a bit strange from the reader’s perspective considering that the narrative is being told from the point-of-view of a dead girl. Every once in a while you’ll stop and wonder just how it’s possible that the dead could possibly narrate her own tale–the logical mind can’t help but rebel. Simply allow the moment to pass and continue reading. This story is full of tension for obvious reasons–the main characters seem on the verge of capture at every turn. Some of their mistakes seem obvious to the outsider, but considering the age of the characters, they can be given a modicum of slack. The ending is a tad unexpected and hints at future tragedy, which makes the journey through the story all the more worth it.
“Yuko,” the second story of the three, is a haunting tale that, for me, is naturally disturbing. A mad husband, a room full of dolls, and the specter of a cursed family line are all baked together and topped with poisonous berries. I’ll be honest–once I reached the end of this story, my grasp on what was really happening became a bit hazy. While I often complain about this same effect when watching Japanese films, in short stories–particularly ones with otherwordly atmosphere–this is actually a skin-tingling bonus.
What I like so much about Otsuichi’s stories, particularly in this collection, is that they seem so straightforward at first glance. You read a few pages and think, gee this doesn’t seem strange at all…. But then, a few minutes later, things take a totally different turn. It’s unexpected, even when you ARE expecting it, and that’s pretty essential for someone like me who gets easily bored with short stories in general.
Which brings me to “Black Fairy Tale.” The main narrative of this short novel is interspersed with the tale of a raven who can speak and one day meets a blind girl–a secondary story that not only frames the main one (I use the term “framed” loosely), but which also appears in it. This is very interesting, especially given who the writer turns out to be.
At first, I thought “Black Fairy Tale” seemed terribly reminiscent of other Asian horror plots–a girl receives an injury that causes her to lose an eye. She has an eye transplanted, and that eye can see things that never happened to her. In fact, there’s a movie called The Eye (the original, not the one with Jessica Alba. I mean, let’s face it, American horror films just aren’t as frightening as the Asian originals), and though what the eye could see was different, the gist of it was the same.
But that’s where the similarity ends, really, because this story goes in a whole other direction. The antagonist is just–well, I’m going to say “out of control,” and I mean that in more than one sense of the phrase. It’s very rare that I come across books or stories grotesque enough to make me legitimately squeamish. “Black Fairy Tale” succeeded in that all too well, partly because most of the story isn’t that grotesque at all, which only enhances the chapters that are. Of course, I say that, but the fairy tale that’s threaded through the main narrative is, in fact, rather disturbing if you actually visualize what’s happening.
While a little slow at first, perhaps, this story picks up and zooms along quite nicely. I would never have expected the obstacles facing the main character to manifest the way they did and, without a doubt, the “bad guy” has a mentality so foreign and puzzling that he comes off as more horrific than the monstrosities he creates.
This was excellent Halloween reading–and engrossing reading in general. I’ll keep an eye out (haha…clever) for more Otsuichi titles from Haikasoru and look forward to being thoroughly unsettled in the future.
Other reviewed titles by Otsuichi: