The market for contemporary high literature is small. The market for contemporary short stories is still smaller. Revenge by Yoko Ogawa, translated from the Japanese by Stephen Snyder, is a blend of the two: eleven disturbing little short stories which make up a larger narrative. However, the short story format should not limit the book’s appeal. Instead, Revenge is a perfect pathway for a busy young person into the world of contemporary fiction. The book is short, but Ogawa accomplishes in 150 pages what can take other writers 800.
Revenge is space-conscious from the first sentence. Ogawa keeps details short and to the point, but always picks those that paint a scene quickly and accurately. The book is quiet and matter-of-fact as it describes nightmarish occurrences, sterile as it paints pictures of violence, death, torture and love.
However, its most remarkable feature is its interconnectedness. The eleven haunting little glimpses of lives intersect and entwine with each other to become a spider’s web of interconnected plots. In the first story of the collection, “Afternoon at the Bakery,” a woman buys a birthday cake for her dead son who suffocated in an abandoned refrigerator some years earlier. She sees the baker crying on the telephone before she places her order, but does not understand why. In the next story “Fruit Juice,” the reader is taken back to the baker’s childhood and is shown why she cried on the phone that day. Each story connects backwards or forwards with the others: the very last story is about the lonely old woman who discovers the body of the young boy from the first story.
Death, cruelty and obsession abound in the connected lives of the characters. A young writer watches her landlady murder her husband and bury him in the garden she cares for. A young nurse becomes infatuated with another woman who has just killed her doctor lover. The tiniest details have an element of horror about them: a dead hamster thrown in a trashcan, a bloody hospital gown, a museum filled with instruments of human torture. The details and the characters show up unpredictably throughout the eleven stories. The stories are also dominated by feelings of loneliness and desire. The characters seem to live, work, and die in isolation from the rest of society. The relationships the characters take part in end up in abandonment. However, each story is too short and stark for any of this to become too much for the reader to bear. Each story ends in a sharp shock which leaves the reader eagerly turning to the next one.
Revenge is a perfect book for anyone who wants to read more, but doesn’t have unlimited time. Each 15-page chunk of the book screams for a reader’s attention, and won’t leave a readers mind until long after. In fact, the book’s conclusion tempts the reader to reread and reconsider the web of relationships between the stories. Despite its brevity, Revenge is a thought-provoking and powerful read.