Earthlings by Sayaka Murata

I had first experienced Murata’s work after reading Dwight Garner’s great review and Motoko Rich’s work in the New York Times and deciding to pick up Convenience Store Woman. It is a straight-faced, captivating story about a woman that develops a relationship with a co-worker in a crappy minimum wage job, and as a result of their affair, the circumstances of the novel come to fruition. It reminded me of any number of Manga-plot devices that lead to missed opportunities, confused emotional navigation, and a whole lot of ennui. I got what I expected, and I loved what I read – totally driven by Garner and Rich and my own obsession with the culture and climate described in the novel. I was satisfied. But there was something about this new novel that grabbed my attention. Once authors grab a foothold in foreign markets, they can test their more challenging work knowing they have an audience, and while I was plainly entertained by Convenience Store Woman, I was blown away when I received an early Advanced Reviewer’s Copy of Earthlings.

Earthlings treated me to a bizarre, ever-evolving blossom of messed up, bizarre infatuation. It may have started a genre in itself, giving rise to a new guard of Japanese Gothic Sci-fi Horror that leads the audience through a captivating story whose basis include the tropes of romance combined with the high strangeness of enthralling extra-terrestrial psychological horror. In short, I have never read a book like this in my life, and I was pulled in for the ride from the first moment.

The book begins with the story of two cousins, brought together in a mountainous region that all of their close-knit family visits for the summer. There is incestuous infatuation in the air once the cousins betroth one another in the spirit of summer love – an innocent marriage based on circumstance and ignorance. This string easily evokes a handful of V.C. Andrews tropes, but then the story winds down into a Lars VonTrier nightmare – an alleyway of horrors one can’t pull their eyes from. Around every corner of the story, I was introduced to another terrible, bizarre, captivating series of events accepted as the true reality and circumstances of the characters… and upon every turn, we are led to accept the terrible and bizarre fates of the characters we once accepted as members of “the factory” – the name given to what is acceptable and encouraged for our society of nuclear-family child-rearing.

I absolutely loved this novel, if only for the fact that I have never experienced anything like it save for perhaps my experiences watching VonTrier’s Antichrist and Darren Aronofsky’s Mother! It is an experience unlike anything in the modern written word, and I encourage everyone to pick up a copy of this bizarre, horrifying, exciting new novel that is unlike anything in recent memory. I was unable to put it down, and look forward to more translations that bring us down this terrifying sieve of eastern, alien darkness and bodily deconstruction.

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