During one of my many fiction-reading slumps last year Amy Rea suggested Yoko Ogawa’s short story collection, a collection that LeAnn also loved. Because I’ve made it a goal to read more outside my comfort zone, I suggested this one for my Rock & Roll Bookclub. Like me, their experiences were decidedly mixed. Some hated it. Some dismissed it as pointless. Some thought it was beautiful and intriguing. And I thought it was okay.
Revenge is a series of interlinked stories of the strange and bizarre mixed with the downright macabre. In one we have a grieving mother celebrating the birthday of her long-dead son in a strangely abandoned bakery. In another a writer gets strangely shaped carrots from her landlady. And in still another a journalist meets a strangely compelling woman who guards a mysterious sack with ferocity.
The stories are well-written, the images are stark and easy to picture, and yet something about this left me a little cold. The characters felt a removed from me. I didn’t “get” them at all — none of them. The entire book was chilling and not in the scary or eerie way (though it is very eery) but in what felt like the emotional remove of the characters from their own lives. This book seemed more focussed on creepy situation than emotions of any sort, which is fine if you like that kind of thing.
The one story that really stood out, the one I enjoyed the most, was about a bag maker hired to design a bag for a singer whose heart was on the outside of her body. This story was creepy as hell. The bag maker becomes obsessed with the singer and the making of the bag — and the care he takes in the fabric choice, and the construction of such an important piece makes for good reading. The ending is great.
Revenge is one of those okay books I find so hard to talk about. It was fine. While I was in Ogawa’s world I was never bored. I didn’t long to be done with the book. But at the same time I didn’t race through any of the stories to find out what happened. My pulse never raced, my brain never felt tickled. It was all very nice. Fine. Okay.