"Welcome to the Museum of Torture" is the title of one of the stories in Yoko Ogawa’s slim new collection, Revenge, but it aptly describes the book as a whole. Equally seductive and unsettling, these tales overwhelm the reader with sinister dreamscapes, each exquisitely rendered in cool, precise prose that has been rightfully compared to that of fellow Japanese author Haruki Murakami.
The stories are loosely interconnected, and they gain strength over time: One dreads what comes next but can’t help craving it. "Sewing for the Heart" is one of the standouts. It tells of a bag maker, a man who takes pride in crafting "any kind of bag a customer wants: bags for artificial limbs, bedpans, rifles, eggs, dentures." One day, a woman — a nightclub singer, it turns out — enters his shop with an especially unusual request: "I would like you to make a bag to hold a heart." What self-respecting artisan could turn down such an offer? He accepts, naturally, lovingly assembling a "lustrous" leather bag for the woman, who "was born with her heart outside her chest." In due time, the man’s own heart is broken.
Ogawa then takes us into another story, but links it to the previous one by reintroducing a seemingly innocuous detail — the bag maker’s dead pet hamster that he’s thrown away is spotted by a woman in a garbage can, "between a crumpled hamburger wrapper and a crushed paper cup. … The poor thing almost still looked alive. … I was right, the hamster was moving: hundreds of maggots were worming into its soft belly."
Grim? Absolutely. But with scenes such as these, Ogawa brings into relief the silent and often disturbing interconnectedness of things, living or not. And she ensures that her tales will long linger in the mind.
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