Pairs Well With: an ice cold glass of Ramune (we recommend hunting down the Watermelon variety). This drink is very fizzy and will likely come in handy in calming your stomach whilst reading some of the more… colourful scenes in Murakami’s novel, Piercing. And if a simple Japanese soda isn’t enough, then I’d recommend indulging in shot after shot after shot after shot of Hakutsuru Sayuri Junmai Nigori; a creamy sake with very pleasant floral after taste (for those of you who love the lavender flavour trend happening, this is the sake for you). The light pink, nearly flesh toned quality of the drink when served in the traditional heated method is so well suited to Kawashima’s stabbing obsession, you may begin to empathize with the character a little too much.
Author: Ryu Murakami
Translator: Ralph McCarthy
Rating: 3 Out Of 5 Whiskey Shots
Synopsis: Kawashima is a devoted family man. He’s a rising star within his advertising firm; seeing new innovative ways of promoting products and services, and always going the extra mile to ensure that everything is perfect. He has a wife he adores, and a newborn baby whom he loves more than life itself. Which is why, rather than taking an ice pick to his infant’s soft, unblemished skin, he’s embarking on a mission to hunt down a pale skinned woman and enact his gruesome, trauma induced phantasies upon her.
He plans. He prepares. He considers every possibility and scenario. Nothing could go wrong.
But then he meets Chiaki, a woman of the night with a dark history of her own, and all of his careful consideration goes down the shitter. From that point on, it becomes a race to fulfill his dark desires and figure out how much this tiny, self-mutilating prostitute has figured out from reading his personal journal.
Overall Impression: Before I begin this section, let me take a moment to give credit and appreciation to Mr. McCarthy for this phenomenal translation. It is no easy task to take a powerful story in one language and effectively retell it in another language. So, I tip my hat to you, sir, and raise my glass in honor of your phenomenal work.
This is a difficult one for me to give a generalized opinion of, and not for the reason I’m sure you assume. It’s not the subject matter, nor the descriptions, nor the prose, nor the POV shifting narrative. Nothing about those things really made me consider giving this a lower grading. In truth, it was the ending that soured my experience.
As a whole, this book strikes me as incredibly romantic (don’t judge me), and it speaks volumes about how childhood trauma haunts and shapes the adults we become. It is a very poetic piece of fiction, and it reads very easily. The tension in Acts I and II is executed masterfully, and the gradual insights into the lives and histories of the two main characters is dolled out in appropriate portions, omitting the info dumps and artistically void expository scenes so many authors seem fond of nowadays.
The Cheers: It’s in writing the characters that Murakami’s true talent shines through. From page one, the reader has a wonderful sense of understanding and sympathy for Kawashima; and as the story progresses and the reader learns more and more about how he became the way he is, the reader is further invested in the odious man. He appears to be a wonderful person, and seems to have a perfect life, but the rotted core that still festers away within him colours his values with such a saturating tone, that he can’t help but see the world through stained glass. I loved seeing that he was careful and intelligent, that he wasn’t some sloppy idiot going about things in a way that would attract attention, nor was he so OCD about everything that he couldn’t adapt in a very cool, concise manner. He was precise and believable, and I respected that.
Chiaki, the counterpart to the stoic Kawashima, is so beautifully constructed that, as a writer myself, I was frustrated seeing how well he wrote this broken character. It was so wonderful to witness how, though she was completely shattered on the inside and an absolute emotional wreck (with an absolutely valid reason), the world she’d created for herself in the layout of her apartment was pristine, a manifestation of the immaculate state that had been forcibly taken from her. Her external world was molded with the same absolute discipline that Kawashima harnessed in his internal world. It really was phantastic to read.
The Hangover: The only issue I truly have with this novel is in the execution (or lack thereof) in the ending. After all of the emotional investment, after all of the hype and the up and down rollercoaster ride of intensity, the ending was… Blah. Nothing happened. No consequences. No profound realization. I was hoping for a grand revelation of intentions and insight, or of a decidedly romantic bond between Kawashima and Chiaki, or even an incredibly melodramatic sorrowful culmination of events, but what was delivered was… Nothing. Just two characters who ignore everything they went through together, and then go about their business as if nothing happened. It felt very akin to almost every Stephen King ending; as if the writer was rockin’ along with the story and then realized the ending had to happen, so they slapped something half assed together and prayed the reader would love it based on the author’s namesake alone.
Come on, Murakami. Don’t do that. Don’t be like Stephen King. You’re so much better than that.
Corking the Bottle: Though rife with scenes of morbid phantasies, horrid histories, and devastating circumstances, Ryu Murakami’s Piercing is a wonderful tale of how the monsters we become, if subjected to mistreatment and horrors at a young age, continue to dominate our lives. The colourful, poetic prose is delightful, and though the ending felt lackluster in comparison to the rest of the story, I would recommend Piercing to any reader looking to shake things up in their reading life.