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Hikikomori and the Rental Sister: A Novel Hardcover – January 8, 2013
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Yet, this hikikomori is American, and he lives in New York City. Thomas is married and his wife, Silke, lives in despair. He has locked himself away from her and she lives in their dead son's bedroom. Their son has died, breaking the parade of father to father, and forcing a fracture in time. . Silke elects to bring in Megumi, "rental sister" seeking to help her husband using a traditional cure. ,Megumi is an intriguing woman, wrapped in layers like silk. And Silke herself is a woman with a full range of emotions in her armory to save her world. " And not that he's perfect, but I just can't abandon him, not until I know who's in there." Both women can see the "gravity", the "heaviness" within Thomas. There is much that is good, much that he can no longer see. This trio in its permutations serves both as themselves and as metaphors of other lives.
The language is lyrical. It resists the easy temptation to dip to pathos. Thomas does not try to rationalize his behavior. He seeks no forgiveness from us. Within this culturally mixed metaphor, we explore the issues of life as it continues despite our best efforts. The characters evoke pockets of ourselves. The relationships are nuanced and luminous. The plot isnreplete within itself. This book is well chosen for one of the best of this month. I had anticipated its publication, and it did not let me down.
This debut novel requires a certain suspension of disbelief; at some point after several years, Thomas' grief becomes self indulgent at best, if not indicative of a psychosis. There is also an episode with a neighbor that doesn't seem to add to our knowledge of the situation or the characters. That said, I will read any book that Algonquin publishes due to the superlative quality of their fiction. I have been a fan of Algonquin books since they were published in a small, distinctive form. Jeff Backhaus is an author to watch and Algonquin is a publisher to treasure.
It has been three years since Thomas Tessler has truly faced the world. Wracked with grief and immense guilt following the tragic death of his young son, Thomas has locked himself in his bedroom, only leaving to shop for groceries at a convenience store in the middle of the night. While he lives in the same apartment as his wife, Silke, he never speaks to her, never acknowledges her many efforts to cook him meals, bring him things, or simply let her know how he is feeling. He is hikikomori, the Japanese word for a person who withdraws, a total social recluse.
Desperate to get her husband back, Silke hires Megumi, a young Japanese woman who knows the hikikomori phenomenon all too well, as it consumed her brother's life back in Japan. Reluctantly, Megumi agrees to work as a "rental sister" for Thomas and Silke, to try and encourage Thomas to come back into the real world again. Megumi's life is fairly unsatisfying, filled with nights spent drinking in bars with her friends, sleeping with random men to try and help her feel something. As she tries to get Thomas to acknowledge her, to speak to her, she finds herself drawn to him in inexplicable ways as he helps fill the emotional void her brother left behind.
Megumi and Thomas' relationship progresses, and threatens to shut Silke out entirely. But Thomas doesn't know exactly what he wants. Can a person who has allowed himself to be so isolated from people, from feelings for so long actually be equipped to feel again, to communicate? This is a fascinating book about how immobilizing grief and loneliness are, yet how comforting isolation can be.Read more ›
This is also a relationship with a surprising lack of conflict. For a novel containing so many painful elements, almost none of it comes through on the page. We know that Tom has retreated into himself because he, very explicitly, says so in his periodic narration. We understand the reasons for Megumi's feelings because she, very explicitly, says them aloud to Tom. The moments of drama that due occur, most notably the fire, are tremendously unearned and generally have no consequence than to move the plot forward.
Overall, Hikkomori and the Rental Sister is mostly just disappointing. There is the potential for interesting story telling here, the central conflict certainly has enough of the elements. But the novel gets bogged down in overly florid prose and carefully constructed happy endings to leave a lasting impression. In the end, I was more interested in the noodles Megumi spent seemingly ever page describing than Tom and his retreat.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Well written. A delightful read. Difficult emotions dealt well. I like the book. A very mature way of showing things. Thank you.Published 6 months ago by S. Black
This book kept your attention to the end wondering if he would leave his room & if he & his wife could reconnectPublished 15 months ago by Sophie5
It took me a long time to finish this book because I couldn't quite get where it was going. Once I buckled down and read with intention, it turns out it is an extraordinary story. Read morePublished 15 months ago by J. Belt
Listened to this on audiotape. Backhaus is a good story teller; this one fell a little bit apart for me due to the premise of the "rental sister" and her purpose integral... Read morePublished 16 months ago by Amazon Customer
Loved this book. Great story, great character development, subject matter was something different from anything I'd ever read. Read morePublished 18 months ago by Amazon Customer
In the Rental Sister, we find a touching story of rebirth and mixed cultures. The story unwinds like a knot being pulled apart. Read morePublished 18 months ago by Jeanne