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Friday, November 06, 2009

Life in the Cul de Sac


Life in the Cul de SacLife in the Cul de Sac

by Senji Kuroi

Stone Bridge Press
ISBN: 1-8806-5657-4
216 pp

What began as a series of interlinking short stories, Kuroi has woven into an unsettling whole in this novel of Japanese suburban dis-ease. The various families in the titular cul-de-sac, whom we visit several times over the course of a few years, spend almost as much time speculating about their neighbours as they do preoccupied with their own problems.

And their problems are numerous: all the male-female relationships seem on the point of dissolution, with suppressed anxieties and dissatisfactions manifesting themselves as a wife's obsession with a stuffed raccoon doll, or a husband's straining to catch a glimpse of the vital young lovers in the place next door.

Kuroi spikes his prose with hallucinatory moments that he purposely does not set off from the mundane reality that has spawned them, leaving the reader momentarily off-balance and forced to work out whether they have actually happened, or are merely the product of a character's febrile imagination. Is the old well under the house overflowing, filling the kitchen? Does the little girl from next door have a thousand needles crammed into her mouth in a grotesque parody of an ancient Japanese vow of truthfulness?

Such moments capture well the domestic neurosis that can overtake family units when there is nothing much more to them than the fact that they live together. The only evidence of closeness is shown in fleeting gestures between the women of the street, who at least are able to empathise with the others’ plights. But in the end, no-one is shown as able to find their way out of their emotional cul-de-sacs.

Richard Donovan

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