Review: Piercing, by Ryu Murakami

>>Published (in Japanese): 1994

>>Published (in English): March 2007

>>Finally got around to it: April 2012

Ten nights ago. He was in the bathtub with the baby, having just finished washing her. He handed her over to Yoko, who was waiting with a fluffy bath towel, and then he leaned back in the tub, leaving the pebbled-glass shower door partially open. Yoko was murmuring to the baby as she dried her, and he was aware of himself smiling at them. And then, with no prelude or warning, a thought came percolating up into his brain and he felt the muscles of his cheeks twitch and freeze.

I wouldn’t ever stab that baby with an ice pick, would I?

***

Kawashima Masayuki is a successful, seemingly normal graphic designer with a loving, fantastic wife, and a newborn baby at home. At night, however, Kawashima finds himself stalking his own child, peering at her as she sleeps with an ice pick in hand and an almost overwhelming desire to use it. To ease his inner turmoil, he concocts a (relatively) simple plan: hire an lady of the evening well versed in S&M, take her to a hotel under and assumed identity, and murder her with an ice pick. Along the way, details of his past will be learned and various levels of psychosis explored.

Yup, this is that Murakami. The other one—the one who sets karaoke gangs against one another in bloody turf wars and fetishizes the slicing of Achilles tendons. Not the spaghetti-slinging, jazz loving purveyor of magical realism and cat-populated universes. This is the Murakami of Audition and Takashi Miike fame. You know, the I-hope-this-writing-calms-his-inner-demons Murakami.

Piercing is in many ways a precursor to the more well known Audition. Where Audition was about one man’s misleading quest for love and the psychopathic, dangerous woman that turns the tables on him, Piercing is about one man’s lust for murder… and the psychopathic, dangerous woman that turns the tables on him. Also, both reference Murakami’s borderline fetishistic lust for the spring-loaded slicing of the Achilles tendon. I won’t lie—it’s more than a little unnerving.

Like many of Murakami’s previous works, Piercing is a novella-length experiment—an opportunity to explore the dark and depraved depths of a singular concept, with little more than a two-dimensional idea to guide the narrative’s path. That’s not to say it’s devoid of all merit—some of Murakami’s descriptive work is suitably distressing and will linger for hours after turning the final page. However, taken as an independent study of one man’s lust for murder (and a potentially thinly veiled commentary on postpartum depression from the perspective of the Y chromosome) it leaves something to be desired.

Had I come to this title before Audition I might have felt more of its impact. As it stands, Piercing feels more like a blueprint of an idea later executed upon in full. In the end, it lacks the tension and fear that might have been found through more in-depth character development.

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