There’s a chill to all the stories in Yoko Ogawa’s latest, the short-story collection Revenge, that will be familiar to anyone who knows the Japanese author’s work, from Hotel Iris with its semi-Stockholm syndromes to The Diving Pool with its chorus of the methodically unhinged—an ominous hunch that, with each new scene, something isn’t quite right.
Largely an image-driven collection, Revenge grounds this hunch in a marvelous series of unadulterated visual spectacles, one after another like a museum exhibit, witnessed by an almost perfunctory cast of suburban misfits. One odd couple encounters an abandoned post office filled to the ceiling with kiwis; an old woman unearths a crop of carrots in the shape of human hands; and another character creates a bag to hug the curves of a woman’s heart. What brings these people to these sites and encounters isn’t exactly taken for granted, but close; this is a community whose residents move from points A to B without reason, or without dwelling on their reasons, and whose colorful human scenery impresses far deeper than would any question of intent. There’s even a museum within the book that resembles the book itself, the Museum of Torture, curated within the decorous home of a coal baron’s spinster twins, who pick up used torture devices as keepsakes of their worldly travels. The story’s narrator finds the museum after a fight with her boyfriend and a long, aimless walk that doesn’t so much lead as compel her to the museum, an old stone house that feeds to the exact sidewalk where her legs tire out. As she says, “Just the spot for me right now.”
Despite the bloody imagery that punctuates these stories, the horror of Revenge exists not in the tragic memories brought about by the images or the terrible impulses they introduce, but rather in the book’s frail connective tissue. Characters in one story reappear in another, dead or alive, as parents or children, in present tense or past, creating a network of shared trouble that means slightly more to the reading experience than it does to the actual narrative. Forgettable at worst and clever at best, the connections are never what you would call central to any of the stories, but their pervasiveness contains what ends up being the true germ of Revenge: the nearly cursed nature of everyone involved, even peripheral characters, and the beauty with which their horrors are plotted.
With their murderous, complacent figures and their relentless array of unsettling images, there’s a repetitiveness to the stories upon which that menacing hunch finally rests, a sense of ungrounded suspicion around every corner. You can’t quite point your finger at it (the word “revenge” isn’t even mentioned in any significant way), but it stays long after the book ends and everyone in it is gone.
Yoko Ogawa’s Revenge: Eleven Dark Tales will be released on January 29 by Picador. To purchase it, click here.