THE BOY IN THE EARTH
By Fuminori Nakamura
Publisher: Soho Crime (April, 2017)
Kindle edition: $14.99
Reviewed by Shirley Wetzel
The young man on the ground has no fear as attackers kick and beat him. His mind observes the violence from a distance, as though it is his due, not to be resisted. When it is all over, he is indifferent to the fact that he’s still alive. He drags himself back to the small apartment he shares with Sayuko, an alcoholic woman whose soul is as damaged as his. Rather than explain his injuries, he takes her to bed for a passionless encounter. There is a bond of mutual need, and of caring, between them. When one is injured, the other offers what comfort and support he or she can.
The story unfolds in the unnamed protagonist’s mind. He lives through each day in a fog as his thoughts drift back to his early childhood and the nightmare he’d barely survived. He knows little of his parents: he presumed them dead until the one man he has ever trusted, the head of the orphanage where he spent much of his youth, told him his father is alive and wants to see him. It is this, perhaps, that sends his thoughts backward to his earliest memories. A couple took him in and made him the scapegoat in their family, beating him when their infant cried, starving and then neglecting him. He knew it was his lot to be beaten, and was grateful when he was hit rather than kicked: it was the nearest thing to intimacy he ever knew.
He has reached a turning point in his short life. Tension and apprehension builds as he decides whether to give in to the darkness of his existence or grasps the lifeline he is offered.
This slim volume is not an easy read, but it is worth pushing through. It can’t be assigned to any genre, but is in a category of its own, noir crime fiction with strange twists and challenging plots. Nakamura’s writing has won many awards, and he is poised to become one of the best young writers in modern crime fiction. Recommended for those who appreciate modern noir.
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