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Posted May 12, 2011
An intense and disturbing psychological portrait
Netsuke is a novel about a psychoanalyst who is as seriously disturbed as any of his patients. The unnamed subject lives in lavish prosperity in a large American city with Akiko, his Japanese-American artist wife of ten years. But the wife is completely unaware that the psychoanalyst's unquenchable lust drives him to one sexual liaison after another--sometimes with complete strangers, but more often with his own patients. The subject imagines his life as being compartmentalized into "real time"--his home and marriage--and "the interstices"--his sexual affairs--from which he draws his life's energy. This theme, a passion for order and containment, is carried through the novel. He uses a separate examining rooms, called "Drear" and "Spells," for his regular clients and those he intends to seduce. He likewise compartmentalizes his self-image by imagining himself in the role of mythological figures, and bathing obsessively to cleanse himself as he transitions from one identity to another. Together with Akiko, who shares his compulsion for order if not his promiscuity, he collects netsuke, Japanese miniature sculptures often depicting mythological and sexual themes. The psychoanalyst's attempt to confine each facet of his troubled life within walls of secrecy is threatened, however, by his own irrational risk-taking. He drops what he calls "clues" as if daring Akiko to accuse him of infidelity. Hints begin to emerge that his behavior has its roots in an abusive parent, but the psychoanalyst is unable to see in himself what he is trained to see in others, and his transgressions become only bolder and more extreme. Rikki Ducornet's prose is clean and sparse but poetic in keeping with the Japanese decor in which the novel takes place. The narrative shifts between third and first person in short chapters that reflect the idea of compartmentalization. I found Netsuke to be highly absorbing and thoughtful. There are many points of similarity between the principal character in this novel and that of Bret Easton Ellis's novel American Psycho. Anyone who enjoyed that novel will appreciate the additional insight offered by Netsuke.
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Posted June 18, 2011
A Dark Descent
**semi spoilers below**Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
The main character in this short novel would be at home in a Roth novel. His sexuality is all-consuming, even perverse, and it torments him. As the novel begins, he is able to maintain a careful balance between his comfortable, solid home and professional life and the sordid "interstices" (his word) where he betrays wife and profession. He seems to exude an animal magnetism at times, but most often his sexual liaisons are with those who seek help from him. As a psychoanalyst, he has access to wounded and needy people, and he takes the almost cliched view that he is helping them as he screws them.
The first part of the novel is told almost entirely from his point of view. We get to know his wife, Akiko, and his patients (or as he calls them, "clients") only through the lens of his torment. The second part, which makes up the final 3rd of the novel, switches to a third person narration that allows us to see the damage he is doing as his life and interstices mix together and collapse. I found the ending to be too rapid, and though descents such as his do occur, I felt like Ducornet robbed the novel of some of its power by having his life unravel so quickly. The ending felt a bit like Checkov's early plays where, though the ending is appropriate, it is somehow at the same time lacking in power. Checkov, of course, went on to write masterpieces like The Cherry Orchard; perhaps Ducornet has a potential masterpiece in her as well.