Tuesday, June 30, 2009



Piercing / Ryu Murakami
New York : Penguin, 2007
Originally published: 1997
Translated by Ralph McCarthy
192 p.

Kawashima Masayuki s a successful graphic designer living in Tokyo with his loving wife, Yoko, and their baby girl. Outwardly, their lives are a picture of happiness and contentment, but every night while his wife sleeps Kawashima creeps from his bed and watches of the baby's crib with an icepick in his hand and an almost visceral desire to use it.

One particular night, as this struggle unfolds once more, Kawashima makes a decision to confront his demons, and sets into motion an uncontrollable chain of events seeming to lead inexorably to murder. The follow-up to In the Miso Soup, Piercing confirms Ryu Murakami as the master of the psycho-thriller -- terrifying, sickening, and utterly gripping.

Ryu Murakami's work is very hit and miss to me. Some I find thoughtfully-crafted and insightful (like 69) and some I find to be overwrought pseudo-psychological ineffective cheap-shock drek (like Almost Transparent Blue.) Piercing lies somewhere in between.

Though the back cover advertizes the book as a follow-up to In the Miso Soup -- my favorite Ryu Murakami work and the only one where he successfully tells a story both horrific and sympathetic without overdoing either -- I don't find Piercing nearly as compelling.

It tells the story of Masayuki, described above standing over his baby's cradle with an ice pick. In order to get this drive out of his system, he decides to stab a woman and meticulously plans the murder. He calls an S&M callgirl service for his victim and is sent Chiaki, our other protagonist, who is also deranged and prone to psychotic breaks and cutting herself. The novel switches haphazardly between their perspectives through a night that goes horribly wrong for both of them, leading to them eventually finding a strange understanding and making some sort of connection.

Murakami does a good job in getting into their minds and portraying their psychosis and torment, but overall the story itself doesn't stand up, at least in today's society. Both characters' problems stem from parental abuse, which is not only somewhat cliche, but also (as presented here) too simplistic. "My mom hit me" and "My dad touched me" isn't enough to explain their current states. It just doesn't track. Plus, their individual breaks from reality are too disjointed and eventually leave the reader (not just the characters) alienated from any real connection.

This story was originally written in 1994, and our culture has come a long way since then, especially Japanese culture. We've seen this stuff before in other books and films like -- pardon the example -- Hostel, which, though miserably bad, makes Piercing feel dated. Today's audiences need more from their psychopaths.



  1. Dude, I just realized that this is Scott from Booky Ooky!!! Right? I've missed you man! How've you been?

    I need to get this book...even though you weren't nuts about it, I've been wanting to read more Murakami (Ryu that is...well, Haruki too...) I loved In The Miso Soup. Read that one on your rec actually! Good to see you book blogging again!

  2. Yup, it's me! In a fit of complete incompetence, I couldn't figure out how to sign into the account after sitting idle for so long, so I decided to just let it lapse and start over rather than fight with the internet. (I always lose.)

    If you want to read more R. Murakami, I'm gonna recommend you check out 69 as well... though it's not in the same vein as Soup and Piercing.

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