Nakamura, Fuminori. The Gun.

NY: Soho Press, 2015.

I kind of have a thing for detective stories and oddball thrillers by contemporary Japanese authors, but I haven’t read Nakamura before. He’s written a number of novels, all of them well-received, and has won several major literary prizes, so I decided it was time I made his acquaintance.

Only a couple of his books have been translated, actually, and this was his first, published in Japan in 2003, when he was only twenty-five.

Toru Nishikawa is a slightly strange university student in Tokyo who takes a perverse pleasure in forcing himself to do things he doesn’t really want to do. So one midnight he’s out walking in a driving rain — just because he hates it — and takes temporary shelter under a road bridge over a river. And there he finds the dead body of what appears to be a businessman, with a bloody .357 Colt revolver lying beside it. He checks that there are no witnesses, then pockets the weapon and hurries away.

He knows nothing whatever about guns, never expected to have anything to do with one, but he finds himself immediately obsessed by this one. He cleans it — superficially, because he can’t even figure out at first how to open the cylinder — then hides it in his room, neatly, almost reverently, displayed on a white cloth. (The color of death and mourning in Japan.)

Are there bullets in the gun? Maybe the dead man was a suicide who required only one. No, he discovers there are still four “golden” cartridges in the cylinder — and the weapon immediately takes on even greater significance. A gun is different from a knife or a sword, which require that a killer get up close and personal. And as he watches a movie on TV set in New York, he thinks about the prevalence of guns in America compared to the policy of strict gun control in Japan. Americans probably don’t take guns as seriously as he does, he thinks, given their rarity in his country.

Could he shoot someone? He imagines a woman and pulling the trigger, and realizes it isn’t causing someone pain that he craves, it’s the process itself, the steps and decisions made in killing. He spends hours polishing the gun, becoming more and more obsessed with it. He carries it with him, first in his book bag, then in his jacket pocket, then openly in his hand — but not where anyone is likely to see him. Being aware of what could happen if he forgets it somewhere gives him focus. He’s more aware of the details of everything around him. Finally, he knows he’s going to have to fire it. But what at? Or whom?

It’s not a long book — not quite 200 pages — but the narrative is absorbingly suspenseful and so is Nishkawa’s gradual psychological collapse and the delusions that crowd him to the finish. There are a couple of subplots involving the girls Nishikawa is seeing (one of them, he doesn’t even know her name and refers to her as “the toast girl”), and the biological father he has just discovered, who is now dying, but those frankly don’t add much to the story. Nevertheless, I’ll be searching out the few other English translations of Nakamura’s books.

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Published in: on 21 September 2016 at 4:42 am  Leave a Comment  
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