I’ve been a fan of Kawakami’s since reading Strange Weather in Tokyo, which is just a beautiful and careful mediation on intimacy. This story, which is fairly lengthy, as short stories go, is a forkloric tale about people becoming snakes and snakes becoming people. It’s eerie, and haunting, and retains all the excoriating insight of Kawakami’s more realist fiction:
“Have you ever been betrayed, Hiwako, dear?” she asked, looking up at me seductively.
To be betrayed, you probably first have to be deeply involved. Had I been deeply involved with anything in my life?
First published in Japanese in 1996. First published in English in Record of a Night Too Brief, Pushkin Press, 2017
This story, and the collection it comes from, marks a contrast in style from Hiromi Kawakami’s later novels about romantic intimacy, such as Strange Weather in Tokyo (tr Alison Markin Powell). In this story she experiments with surrealism, creating dream-like settings where confusion and the threat of danger weigh on the text. This approach allows her to move into a more abstractly psychological style of writing reminiscent of Korean writer Bae Suah or Chinese writer Can Xue.
What was that itch on my back, I wondered. And then I realized: the night was nibbling into me.It wasn’t that late yet, still only dusk, but the darkness appeared to be collecting just above my shoulders. A particularly black clump of it had fastened onto my back, and a part of the area where it was touching me had been eaten away.
I wriggled and tried to shake it off, but the night clung fast.
First published in translation in Words Without Borders, July 2012, and available to read online here. Collected in Record of a Night Too Brief, Pushkin Press, 2017