Hardcover, 246 pages
Published January 8th 2013 by Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill
hikikomori, n. h kik mo ri; literally pulling inward; refers to those who withdraw from society.
Inspired by the real-life Japanese social phenomenon called hikikomori and the professional rental sisters hired to help, Hikikomori and the Rental Sister is about an erotic relationship between Thomas, an American hikikomori, and Megumi, a young Japanese immigrant hiding from her own past. The strange, insular world they create together in a New York City bedroom and with the tacit acknowledgment of Thomas’s wife reveals three human hearts in crisis, but leaves us with a profound faith in the human capacity to find beauty and meaning in life, even after great sorrow. Mirroring both East and West in its search for healing, Hikikomori and the Rental Sister pierces the emotional walls of grief and delves into the power of human connection to break through to the world waiting outside.
The concept sounds cool, yea? I’ve been interested in Hikikomori for a while now after I watched a Japanese movie that featured one as a character (I actually watched the movie mainly for Aoi Yuu) but anyway. They are interesting and sad – what provokes a person to withdraw completely from society? I thought I’d get something interesting, something substantial – a philosophical meandering of sorts that I would enjoy. Perhaps in the same tone as a Murakami book. Something that tried to look beyond the surface.
This book is more like a middle aged man’s sexual fantasy. I wish I was joking. I really do. All the women in this novel were defined by their use to the men. By their physical selves and oh, they were objectified. Megumi is actually defined by men in totality. Her father, her brother, Thomas, the various men she hooks up with in bars – they all define her. She doesn’t spend any time with herself, existing as an individual. No, she’s always seeking or giving sexual gratification. Oh, and she is very much orientalized. She is even the victim of a sexual assault and no one thinks to call the police. The oriental woman. In the descriptions of her physical self and how she makes Thomas feel. And once she has been used up, she is abandoned so good old Thomas (with the appropriate waffling prior) can return to Silke who, once again, only exists inasmuch as she is of use to Thomas. She cooks, cleans and waits for him. She cries for him.
Okay, let’s move on to Thomas. If I was supposed to feel sorry for the man, then it didn’t happen. If anything I was vastly irritated with him. I understand his kid died – but not as tragically as I had thought. If he had intimately been involved in the murder of the kid, if the kid had been murdered, yes I know it sounds callous but people die every day. Grief is different from a withdrawal of society. He didn’t withdraw from society because he was sick of society, he ran and hid because he felt guilty. If I were a hikikomori, I’d feel rather pissed at this American trying to emulate my behavior. I’m just saying that there are levels of complexity and layers of emotions that is entirely missing in this novel.
Yeah. I did not like this book at all. I did not like the way it portrayed people who legitimately revile society for reasons this book doesn’t fathom as evidenced by its portrayal of Thomas. And I hated the way women were objectified and treated. Ughhhh. I wish I could scrub my eyes or something.