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The Method Actors: A Novel Paperback – May 10, 2005
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From Publishers Weekly
Kiwinovelist Shuker's debut follows a set of gaijin—young international 20-somethings who have gravitated to ultrahip, fast-forward Tokyo—as one of their number goes missing. A young Wellington-born military historian researching the Rape of Nanking, Michael Edwards suddenly disappears from his coterie, and his ex-pat clan swings into action despite their own problems. Michael's sister Meredith, 22, rushes back from a U.S. trip and must negotiate their complicated family's concern, as well as her own lack of direction. Catherine (married at 24 and having recently ended an affair with Michael), Yasuhiko (a misfit ex-botanist drug dealer to the rich and foreign), New Zealander Simon and his occasional bedmate Jacques—all get involved to one degree or another, when they can stop thinking about fashion, sex or drugs. Shuker uses short sections titled by character to shift back and forth in time, place and perspective. Meredith tirelessly roots around her brother's life, but the complex, grandiose scope of Michael's research (which may hold the key) pales in comparison to the Tokyo appearance of Catherine's husband. Shuker's dizzying debut shimmers with authentic detail, an uncanny, otherworldly sense of place and a cast of believably hardcore hipsters. (June)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Loner Yasu cultivates psilocybin mushrooms in his Tokyo apartment. Precocious college dropout Michael, the son of a wealthy New Zealand judge, is a rogue historian. When Michael disappears from his plush Tokyo digs, his sister, Meredith, flies in to search for him. She soon finds herself among a group of promiscuous fellow ex-pats who roam the enormous city, cell phones in hand, struggling with the language and feelings of alienation while consuming mass quantities of cigarettes, vending-machine beer, and drugs. As Meredith flounders, Yasu and his magic mushrooms dovetail with Michael's study of hidden Japanese war crimes in China during World War II. Shuker brilliantly captures Tokyo's edgy atmosphere and the cosmic loneliness of his characters in his overlong yet probing and imaginative debut novel, which possesses the frisson of Alex Garland's The Beach (1997) and a profound moral valence. How do we distinguish between the roles people play and their authentic selves? How contrived is history? How do we live with the knowledge of horrors such as the Japanese atrocities? Shuker poses daunting questions of conscience and compassion. Donna Seaman
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
Top customer reviews
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Modern Japan is reflected and refracted through the characters with amazing scope, delving back to the early days of the period of isolation, and forward into an ever present now that is life in Tokyo. Elements of the plot are paralleled with The Twelfth Night: a sister and missing brother in a strange land where illusion, delusion and (self) deception are everywhere; comically and tragically. One of many strands of interwoven narrative centering around gaijin in Japan, each with intricate resonances about family, academia, history and revisionism, interpretation of self and circumstance.
It is a great read. If you've lived in Tokyo you will recognise the people, and you will recognise their reactions and experiences as your own; and even if you haven't you will find plenty to keep you interested.
Family, sex, hallucinogenic drugs, war crimes, a missing sibling, "The Method Actors" sets itself an ambitious goal - to tell the humanly detailed stories of individual foreigners in modern Japan, but to also dig below this into the history of this country, and the history of how foreigners have entered the culture. This is Shuker's first novel. It is long and it requires a similar commitment to that of David Foster Wallace's "Infinite Jest". But, like this novel, this commitment pays off dramatically, in terms of narrative voice, style, and prose dazzlement. I would recommend it not just to anyone who has traveled to or lived in Japan (though for these people the book will be particularly impressive), but to anyone who is interested in getting a deeper understanding of the complexity and moral relativism of Japan's post-WW2 history, and contemporary culture.
This novel is important, but it is also hugely entertaining. Ezra Pound said "a great poet is everywhere present, and nowhere visible as a distinct excitement". Toward the end of this novel, the energy - and I think of this in terms of kinetics, as the friction, conflict, sex, heat, movement of the prose - is ratcheted up. You can literally feel the writer change gears. This energy is creative excitement - the writer's and the reader's - and it is everywhere present.
And this is where my understanding of Pound's quote comes in. Even though the accuracy of Shuker's Tokyo speaks of his clearly personal involvement in the story, as the artist he is nowhere present. To a necessary degree, he has effaced himself. The feat that marks Shuker as someone to watch, is that of projecting his own understanding into this variety of voices, into characters across time, gender, race and culture. Shuker's perspective seems to be that the individual's importance is swallowed up in wider and stronger forces of nation, war, power and history. The quality of empathy, the retaining and championing of the details of the individual - love, memory, belief, habit, inflections of speech - is what makes "The Method Actors" so important.
The book itself was written with a verbose style that I wholly enjoyed.
It will forever sit on my shelf, and whenever I feel like bringing back some fond or detestable memories of Japan I shall refer to this book.
Thank you Mr. Shuker.