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“Ducornet is a novelist of ambition and scope. One is grateful for what she’s accomplished here.”—The New York Times
“Judging by her new novel, [Ducornet] has not lost ground. . . . Netsuke, a short novel that seethes with dark energy and sinister eroticism, still has power to shock, maybe even to appall. . . . Our society is numb to explicit depictions of sexual acts. The perversity, decadence, even the depravity that Ducornet renders here feel explosively fresh because their sources are thought and emotion, not the body, and finally there’s pathos too.”—Boston Globe
“’When the very air of one’s marriage grows thin and dim, there is nothing to do but set out to find a richer, brighter air,’ ponders the narrator of Port Townsend author Rikki Ducornet’s brief, fervent novel Netsuke. . . . Written in lyrical, sensuous prose, as if shrouded in a fog of humidity, Netsuke emerges as a character study of a man in crisis.”—The Seattle Times
"Ducornet's new book tenaciously plums the tension between impulse and restraint." —American Book Review
“[Ducornet] writes novels in delicate, precise language. . . . [Netsuke] is an introspective study of the life of a bad man—or is he a man who just keeps making bad decisions?—who can't stop abusing his power.”—The Stranger
“[A] finely crafted object of a novel . . . . Ducornet weaves a complex tapestry of various and repeated colors, textures, and designs. . . . The total effect is simply remarkable, an austere yet somehow lush beauty. At times this chilling tale seems neo-gothic, reminiscent of the work of Patrick McGrath, though much more compact. Ducornet has the extraordinary ability to compress an explosive tale of violence and repression in a small, tight container. . . . [W]e are simultaneously repulsed and entranced as the disturbing but gorgeous story accelerates to its foregone conclusion.”—Rain Taxi
"Netsuke comes at the summit of Rikki Ducornet's passionate, caring, and accomplished career. Its readers will pick up pages of painful beauty and calamitous memory, and their focus will be like a burning glass; its examination of a ruinous sexual life is as delicate and sharp as a surgeon's knife. And the rendering? The rendering is as good as it gets." —William Gass
“Rikki Ducornet can create an unsettling, dreamlike beauty out of any subject. In the heady mix of her fiction, everything becomes potently suggestive, resonant, fascinating. She exposes life’s harshest truths with a mesmeric delicacy and holds her readers spellbound.”—Joanna Scott
“There is the time before you open Rikki Ducornet’s Netsuke and then there is only the time in which you are reading—a searing present of heart-swallowing secrets, warped eroticism, betrayals, and insight trellised against the page in nightshade-gorgeous prose.” —Forrest Gander
“Linguistically explosive. . . . Ducornet is one of the most interesting American writers around.” —The Nation
“Ms. Ducornet writes with velocity, immediacy, and impact. It only takes a few pages to be caught up in the mind of the doctor. . . . This story has some fascinating insights and no-holds-barred language that is reminiscent of the work of the famed psychoanalyst and author Irwin D. Yalom’s novel, Lying on the Couch. Though the doctor couches all of his actions as empathetic and for the “good of his clients,” his real intentions are as transparent as glass. He is like a feral cat that has been put in charge of the hen house."—New York Journal of Books
“Rikki Ducornet travels . . . literary terrain with an assured, lyrical voice that consistently fascinates.” —Los Angeles Review
A psychiatrist's erotic desires run amok, bringing ruin to many lives.
The novel, an amalgam of erotica and tragic romance with clear literary aspirations, begins with an italicized section describing the main character running in a park, godlike, exuding a sexual magnetism that allows him (in his 60s) to seduce with a glance a much younger woman running past him. They enter the woods for an immediate tryst, which the author describes in pornographic, philosophical and mythological language. The narrative switches to first person to describe the unnamed psychiatrist's compulsions to seduce his patients, as he operates two separate "cabinets" (offices), one called "Drear" for his mundane clients and the other "Spells" for the ones with whom he is sexually involved. The doctor's inner monologue oscillates between confident narcissism (he is all-powerful, perhaps even doing therapeutic good through these affairs) and awareness of his decadence and impending doom. He longs to be caught, and death is in the air alongside the ubiquitous sex. Moreover, he has a compulsion to leave clues—verbal and otherwise—for his wife Akiko (the collector of the titular netsuke) to find. He is able to sustain his affairs with myriad patients and strangers until he meets David, a new patient whom he immediately designates for Spells—he's attracted to him as a man—but no, David is a woman named Jello, a drag queen. Inevitably, it all comes crashing down as lovers and wife become aware that the doctor has been very busy.
No reader will be impoverished for having skipped this one.
Posted May 12, 2011
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
**semi spoilers below**
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.
Posted September 20, 2012
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Posted December 7, 2011
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Posted September 13, 2012
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