Hikikomori and the Rental Sister by Jeff Backhaus, Stephen Bowlby |, Hardcover | Barnes & Noble
Hikikomori and the Rental Sister
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Hikikomori and the Rental Sister

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by Jeff Backhaus
     
 

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hikikomori, literally pulling inward; refers to those who withdraw from society.

Inspired by the real-life Japanese social phenomenon called hikikomori and the professional “rental sisters” hired to help, Hikikomori and the Rental Sister is about an erotic relationship between Thomas, an American hikikomori, and Megumi, a

Overview

hikikomori, literally pulling inward; refers to those who withdraw from society.

Inspired by the real-life Japanese social phenomenon called hikikomori and the professional “rental sisters” hired to help, Hikikomori and the Rental Sister is about an erotic relationship between Thomas, an American hikikomori, and Megumi, a young Japanese immigrant hiding from her own past. The strange, insular world they create together in a New York City bedroom and with the tacit acknowledgment of Thomas’s wife reveals three human hearts in crisis, but leaves us with a profound faith in the human capacity to find beauty and meaning in life, even after great sorrow. Mirroring both East and West in its search for healing, Hikikomori and the Rental Sister pierces the emotional walls of grief and delves into the power of human connection to break through to the world waiting outside.

Named an Indie Next pick, an Amazon Best Book of the Month, one of Book Riot’s 5 to Watch, and an iBookstore Editor’s Choice in hardcover.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Hikikomori, Backhaus explains in his implausible debut, is the Japanese term for withdrawn, an experience apparently more common than Silke Tessler realizes when she goes looking for help for her husband, Thomas, who shut himself up in a room three years earlier and has barely been outside of it since. Though the traditional ”rental sister” concept—evidently an antidote for a hikikomori—remains vague, in this novel it means that Silke hires a beautiful 22-year-old Japanese girl to bring Thomas back into the world. Lucky for him, oral sex and illicit nights together hiding from Silke work wonders with even the most reclusive. While the intellectual underpinning of the book could be said to pose interesting questions about guilt, love, and renewal, more often than not it reads like an adolescent fantasy in which Thomas, in order to save himself and his marriage, must subject himself to Megumi’s “immense” sexual appetite; what could be better than a wife-approved tryst with a publicly demure but privately voracious young woman who wants nothing in return? Blatant metaphors of winter, spring, and a spiritually cleansing trip to the hot springs don’t buoy the disagreeable proceedings. Agent: David Marshall, Marshall Rights. (Jan.)
The Wall Street Journal

“[A] strange and tender debut novel . . . His writing, which is as clear and direct as flowing water, convincingly portrays the deepening connection between Thomas and Megumi.”

The Toronto Star

“This is one remarkable debut.”

St. Louis Post Dispatch

“Written deeply, cleanly, sparely and gently, like fingers playing over the strings of a harp.”

The New York Post

“Required reading.”

Reviews
“A mesmerizing debut at once sorrowful, intimate, and optimistic . . . Told in crisp and lyrical prose and a nontraditional narrative that shifts between first- and third-person, Backhaus’s novel is courageous and spare, an enthralling success.” —Booklist, starred review

“[A] strange and tender debut novel . . . His writing, which is as clear and direct as flowing water, convincingly portrays the deepening connection between Thomas and Megumi.” —The Wall Street Journal

“This is one remarkable debut.” —The Toronto Star

“Tender and deftly rendered.” —Arkansas Democrat Gazette

“The book is . . . written deeply, cleanly, sparely and gently, like fingers playing over the strings of a harp. Jeff Backhaus has apparently worked at many jobs, but it seems that he has now found his vocation.” —St. Louis Post Dispatch

“Listen to the music of this novel closely. It is the sound of genius. To miss it would be to miss a story that will change the way you feel about your own life.” Robert Goolrick, author of A Reliable Wife

“Required reading.” —The New York Post

Booklist

“A mesmerizing debut at once sorrowful, intimate, and optimistic . . . Told in crisp and lyrical prose and a nontraditional narrative that shifts between first- and third-person, Backhaus’s novel is courageous and spare, an enthralling success.”—Booklist, starred review

Kirkus Reviews
A debut novel of grief and its porn-fantasy resolution. The hikikomori of the title is Thomas Tessler. He has lived locked in a room in his Manhattan apartment for three years, while his wife, Silke, goes on with her life next door in their former bedroom. Thomas leaves the apartment on rare occasions, at night, to stock up on supplies--TV dinners, canned food, coffee--while Silke sleeps. At her wit's end, Silke finds a young Japanese woman, Megumi, the rental sister of the title, to lure Thomas out of his room. Thomas has locked himself in because he cannot get over the death of his son, for which he feels overwhelming guilt. What the patient and loving Silke cannot accomplish, Megumi pulls off in a matter of weeks. Megumi's brother was also hikikomori in Japan, where apparently the phenomenon is more common, the hikikomori having a cultural identity or dignity unavailable in the States--and this qualifies her to visit the American stranger. As we learn more about Megumi--she sold her panties for shopping money and then her body to spirit her brother out of the country--one of the most egregious stereotypes emerges from this chrysalis: the hooker with a heart of gold. Of course Megumi falls for Thomas. He is the strong, silent type after all. Thomas' lair turns out to be the perfect place to carry on an affair, and Silke seems to accept, if not welcome it--she contracted for it. A handful of taut moments explore the dramatic potential of this ménage à trois. A conflagration heralds a conclusion consistent with conventional expectations. Occasional moments of fine writing cannot salvage this unpromising debut.
Wall Street Journal
“Backhaus’s strange and tender debut novel . . . traces the painful rehabilitations of three lonely souls. His writing . . . is clear and direct as flowing water.”
Wall Street Journal

USA Today
“[A] quiet but poignant exploration of loneliness and self-discovery.”
USA Today

From the Publisher
“[A] quiet but poignant exploration of loneliness and self-discovery.”
USA Today

“Stephen Bowlby’s use of an unemotional voice for narrator Thomas captures the tone of this quirky, spare story of loneliness, grief, and love. . . . With this debut, Backhaus proves he is an author to watch. Recommended.”
Library Journal

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781616201371
Publisher:
Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill
Publication date:
01/08/2013
Pages:
256
Product dimensions:
5.60(w) x 8.40(h) x 1.10(d)

What People are saying about this

author of "A Reliable Wife" Robert Goolrick

“Listen to the music of this novel closely. It is the sound of genius. To miss it would be to miss a story that will change the way you feel about your own life.”

Meet the Author

Jeff Backhaus has been a cook, an art director, and a professional pilot. He lived and worked in Korea and now lives in New York. Author website: www.jeffbackhaus.com.

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