>>Finally got around to it: July 2013
The glass was stuck deep in the palm of his hand. Crimson blood spurted out of the gash and dripped down the sparkling, jagged glass. The beer glass had broken and gouged into Fumiya’s palm. Coming to his senses, Kazuya pulled away breathlessly, in shock.
My blood. My red… red blood. My Blood.
So intoxicated was Fumiya by its brilliance and beauty, he slowly got to his feet and turned his back on the others. The glass seemed to be stuck rather deeply. It glittered as the blood continued to drip from the fleshy part of the palm near his pinkie.
“Fumiya… I’m sorry—”
As soon as Kazuya spoke, Fumiya let out an animal cry that he hardly recognized as his own. He folded his fingers over the glass into a fist and swung with all his might. Blood spattered in every direction. A sharp, throbbing pain shot straight up to his head as he buried his hand in Kazuya’s cheek.
The path to high self-esteem runs filthy with blood, bodies made unrecognizable by surgery and self-manipulation, and family hurt and forcibly pushed aside. Such is the message throughout Asa Nonami’s Bødy, a collection of five thematically linked short narratives.
Named for five aspects of the body—“Navel,” “Blood,” “Whorl,” “Buttocks,” and “Jaw”—the stories contained within are case studies in self-destruction via the fetishization of the human body. This fetishization takes on a number of different forms: self-obsession, anorexia, sexual addiction, the quest for power, and embodying a perceived ideal.
“Navel” tells the story of Aiko and her daughters Minako and Chihara. To better fit a westernized ideal of beauty, Minako pressures her mother into allowing her to have plastic surgery on her navel. While gathering information on the procedure, Aiko herself is encouraged to do a little lifting, tucking, and sweeping away of the years, beginning with the crow’s feet beneath her eyes. At first the women are afraid of what Aiko’s husband will say about all this, and more importantly, about where Aiko got the money to embark on this surgical journey—money she squirreled away for herself without his knowing. Fear quickly changes into a desire for recognition, for the women to be acknowledged for their transforming beauty (or notion thereof). As Aiko’s husband remains seemingly indifferent and/or oblivious to the changes his wife and daughter’s are experiencing, they push even harder, travelling down the surgical rabbit hole until sweeping physical changes have been made. In the end, however, not only does he remain unaware of how they have changed, but Aiko and her daughters’ pursuit of ever-increasing youth has seemingly sapped him of what remained of his life.
“Blood,” the second story in the collection, follows Fumiya and Reiko and their strained marriage. Fumiya has a fetish for fat, knobbly women’s knees—something his wife Reiko unfortunately does not have. To satiate this increasingly demanding sexual urge, Fumiya takes risks, groping women’s knees in public places and on transit. When he is caught, his wife takes their infant son Mitsuya to her parents. They reconcile, and for a while Fumiya is able to restrain himself. But when Reiko steps on a sewing needle, the tiniest blossom of blood ignites in Fumiya a new, more overwhelming fetish. He becomes a serial pricker—using a sewing needle to poke and prick women in public places (the story never once acknowledging the alarming viral possibilities of sharing a needle amongst so many different women). Blood—all blood—becomes intoxicating for Fumiya, a theme mirrored in the troubled relationship he maintains with his mother and brother; the more enveloped he is by his new fetish, and the closer he becomes to Reiko through it, the greater the distance established between him and his actual blood relatives.
The third story, “Whorl,” focuses on Masao and Kikuka. Masao, still a young man, is balding, his hair now four identifiable, thinning, whorls. He and Kikuka have been dating for some time, and while he thinks he wants to marry her, he struggles to commit to her due to the situation on top of his scalp. Masao isn’t sure: does he marry her and accept his inevitable clear-cut soil, or does he take drastic action in the faint hope of maintaining what little hair remains so that he might again “play the field?” The Viagra parallels are undeniable.
“Buttocks” introduces us to Hiroe—an elite, popular, schoolyard bully, and the daughter of a very wealthy and prominent OB/GYN. Hiroe is a big fish in a small pond: in her school she is recognized for her looks and her power and influence, be it earned or appropriated. Upon being accepted to an all girls high school in Tokyo, she is quickly cut off from those she thought were her friends, but were more orbiting planets in need of a star. Adding to this, the culture shock of Tokyo city life takes a toll on Hiroe’s self-perception: where before she was “beautiful enough” and not particularly misshapen or known especially well for any one physical trait, in Tokyo she is wrong—the wrong shape, the wrong size. She begins starving herself, working herself into the mindset of eating so little she’ll never have to defecate again.
In the collection’s final story, “Jaw,” we meet the down-on-his-luck Atsushi—a young man with a troubled past as the victim of violence and aggression. After suffering a lifetime of being a punching bag, Atsushi is saved from a beating one night by a mysterious man he assumes is a boxer. Lusting after the strength exhibited by the boxer, Atsushi joins a local gym and begins training to be a fighter. It isn’t long before the strength he gains overwhelms his sensibilities and original desire to protect his self. He begins lusting after power—after dominion over weaker beings, turning his back on where he came from in the first place. His lack of humility as a fighter is his inevitable downfall.
While all of the stories are warped to varying degrees, it’s only “Navel” that exhibits some inkling of magical realism via the apparent premature aging and death of the husband, whose life, it seems, has been mysteriously sapped away by the rest of his family’s actions. The remaining stories are more or less rooted in the real world, and it’s the minds of each individual character that are twisted into perceiving the world around them differently.
Additionally, the stories included are predominantly from a man’s perspective—only “Navel” and “Buttocks” focus on women. Interestingly, though, in each story it is the men who are the weaker, more intrinsically and negatively flawed—negatively in the sense that their actions for “improvement” affect others outside of themselves, while the women’s stories turn inward, targeting their own bodies for dissection and piecemeal transformation. To boil it down: the men’s stories are about virility, sexuality, and power, while the women’s stories are about appearance, fitting a perceived “ideal” and being desired by others. As such, the stories illustrate the consequences of low self-control and self-esteem, and play very strongly into established cultural expectations, norms, and stereotypes.
Bødy is mostly enjoyable, although only “Blood” that stands apart as something special (and quite disgusting in parts). The collection feels more experimental than sure-footed, and I’m left wishing the overarching theme had a more profound impact on the whole. Instead, Bødy feels a little like a marketer’s collection—a grouping together of several narratives because they sort of, maybe, fit together, and not because they must be together to form, for lack of better phrasing, a unique body of work unto themselves.
And goddamn what a gorgeous cover…