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Pull Me Under
     

Pull Me Under

by Kelly Luce
 

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A searing debut novel from one of the most imaginative minds in fiction

Chizuru Akitani is the twelve-year-old daughter of the famous violinist and Japanese “Living National Treasure” Hiro Akitani. Overweight and hafu (her mother is white), she is tormented by her classmates and targeted by the most relentless bully of them all, Tomoya

Overview

A searing debut novel from one of the most imaginative minds in fiction

Chizuru Akitani is the twelve-year-old daughter of the famous violinist and Japanese “Living National Treasure” Hiro Akitani. Overweight and hafu (her mother is white), she is tormented by her classmates and targeted by the most relentless bully of them all, Tomoya Yu. When Chizuru’s mother dies suddenly her father offers her no comfort and she is left feeling alone and unmoored. At school, her bully’s cruelty intensifies, and in a moment of blind rage, Chizuru grabs a Morimoto letter opener from her teacher’s desk and fatally stabs Tomoya Yu in the neck.

For the next seven years, Chizuru is institutionalized. Her father visits her just twice before ultimately disowning her. Upon release, Chizuru flees Japan for a new identity and life in the United States. Determined to outrun her murderous past, she renames herself Rio, graduates from nursing school, marries a loving man, and soon has a daughter. But when a mysterious package arrives on her doorstep in Boulder, Colorado, announcing the death of her father, Rio feels compelled to return to Japan for the first time in twenty years, leaving her husband and her daughter confused and bereft. Going back to her homeland, and to the scene of her complicated past, feels like stepping into a strange and familiar dream. When she unexpectedly reconnects with Miss Danny, who had been her beloved teacher at the time of the stabbing, long-kept secrets are unearthed, forcing Rio to confront her past in ways she never imagined, and to decide if she will reveal to her family who she once was.

Full of atmospheric and illuminating descriptions of Japan and its culture, Pull Me Under is an affecting exploration of home, identity, and the limits of forgiveness. Kelly Luce has written a bold and psychologically complex first novel that grips and dazzles from start to finish.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
08/15/2016
In Luce’s (Three Scenarios in Which Hana Sasaki Grows a Tail) debut novel, a Japan-born mother leaves her family in Colorado and travels back to Japan to attend the funeral of her estranged father, a world-renowned violinist. As a girl, Rio Silvestri fatally stabbed a bully at school, a crime whose shame led her to move to the United States, change her name, and keep her identity a secret from her husband and daughter. The novel’s first two acts deal directly with Rio’s slow exhumation of her past, including a reunion with Ms. Danny, her teacher at the time of the murder. After accompanying Ms. Danny on a revealing spiritual pilgrimage, Rio, unable to prove her identity, is arrested by Japanese authorities at her childhood home. Her imprisonment brings her American family to Japan, where her past is finally laid bare. Set mostly in the countryside, Luce deftly evokes Japan without exoticizing it, though a structure heavy on flashback undercuts too much of the drama. But the final act is the novel’s strongest and most confident, weaving the book’s threads together and leaving a lasting reverberation. Agent: Katherine Fausset, Curtis Brown. (Nov.)
From the Publisher

Elle's 33 Best Books of 2016

“The writing of Kelly Luce is beautifully stark and simple, and at the same time playful, earthy, and violent. She’s unique, a natural born writer, and Pull Me Under is a strange and very appealing novel, a journey to Japan and the primal scene of the main character's self—which, like a volcano, may have already blown its top.” —Rachel Kushner

"Kelly Luce's unforgettable debut is an elegant mystery, a tender story of family and forgiveness, an unsettling depiction of the darkness we each carry inside, and a hymn to Japan. Noodle shops, summer festivals, ancient temples, and the lush landscape of rural Shikoku burst to life in these pages. From its first sentence, Pull Me Under grabs the reader and doesn't let go." —Sarah Bird, author of Above the East China Sea

“As Rio moves deeper into the painful secrets of the past, secrets that nearly destroyed her in childhood and are threatening to undo her once again, I could not stop turning the pages of Kelly Luce’s hypnotic debut. Pull Me Under is a fierce and suspenseful exploration of the profoundly mysterious nature of identity, written with precise and spectacular beauty. Kelly Luce is one of our most thrilling new talents.” —Laura van den Berg

"Kelly Luce’s debut novel is an urgent and wise story about the many disparate identities a life can hold, but it is also an astonishing example of all that a novel can encompass. By turns, Pull Me Under is a finely crafted mystery, a portrait of a fractured family, an evocative travelogue, an aching coming-of-age tale, and an insightful contemplation of our inescapable histories in an increasingly globalized and digitized culture. In this novel, Luce offers many poignant, page-turning pleasures, but her greatest gift to the reader is her revelation of how a single life, a single mind, a single, artful book can contain multitudes." —Stefan Merrill Block

"This is a suspense novel with a female protagonist that gets more right about women than so many others I've read in the past few years." —NPR

"Revelatory" —Elle

"[Pull Me Under] will bewitch you." —O Magazine

"Beautifully written and utterly hypnotic, Pull Me Under is one you can't miss." Melissa Ragsdale, Bustle

"Propulsive and fresh . . . Luce knows how to end her story, and does so satisfyingly." Trine Tsouderos, The Chicago Tribune

"Kelly Luce has written a phenomenal novel in Pull Me Under, one that captivates and disquiets in its search for answers about the parts of ourselves that are unknowable . . . Luce maneuvers the reader through this story seamlessly, and, seeing as it’s Halloween season and all, I’ll say, too: she is a virtuosic jack-o-lantern carver, slicing and hewing away at her characters until their pulpy interiors are exposed. And from inside that space, she shines a light." —Vincent Scarpa, Electric Literature

"Pull Me Under, which follows Luce’s award-winning short-story collection, is psychologically complex; it inspires horror, sympathy and even, at times, humor. Amid all the gray, however, one thing is certain: Luce is worth watching." —Suzanne Kamata, The Japan Times

"Luce’s prose is sharp and powerful, rising to heights when conjuring a sense of nostalgia and homecoming for places that readers have likely never been. The Japan of Pull Me Under does not read as a caricature of the country, but rather a genuine experience that at times is both atmospheric and nearly tangible . . . Pull Me Under does so much so well. The mystery surrounding the plot and the family drama can hook you as a reader, but it’s the emotions and inner workings of the narrator’s mind as you flip through the pages that will keep you fed." —BookPeople

"Kelly Luce’s stories render memorably and with deadpan understatement their protagonists’ obsessive combinations of longing and grief and bafflement in the face of their loved ones’ emotional requirements, even as their worlds slip seamlessly into the uncanny. These stories unsettle as much as they entertain." —Jim Shepard

"Kelly Luce writes stories whose charm is a lasting effect. Her work is witty, unpredictable, and freshly written. There’s a genuine imagination at work here that is a delight to spend time with." —Stuart Dybek

"In Three Scenarios in Which Hana Sasaki Grows a Tail, Kelly Luce manages the impossible: each story delicate and enormous, intricate, glitteringly beautiful, never less than strange, never less than profound, ten spiderwebs astonishingly spun. Readers: here is your new favorite short story writer." —Elizabeth McCracken

“Luce deftly evokes Japan without exoticizing it . . . The final act is the novel’s strongest and most confident, weaving the book’s threads together and leaving a lasting reverberation.” —Publishers Weekly

"Luce’s debut novel is psychologically seductive, and the prose draws the reader into its loneliness. Pull Me Under shines brightest as an inquest into whether a split psyche can ever be made whole once the past becomes its own foreign country–and the tyranny of being taught that a dark past is not to be trespassed upon." –Amy Jo Burns, Ploughshares ("The Most Necessary Books for the End of 2016")

“Luce follows her hit story collection, Three Scenarios in Which Hana Sasaki Grows a Tail, with a debut novel about secret lives and selfhood . . . Understated yet emotionally gripping, Luce’s novel is an intimate portrayal of one woman’s search for identity.”
—Jonathan Fullmer, Booklist

"I was sucked into the prose and character in Luce’s latest accomplishment from the very start. Rio Silvestri and Chizuru Akitani bring both the familiar and the terrifying parts of our psyche to the surface and then pull you right back down into the depths of this stunning debut novel." –Nick Buzanski, Book Culture

Library Journal
★ 12/01/2016
Luce's debut novel (after the short story collection Three Scenarios in Which Hana Sasaki Grows a Tail) begins in a juvenile detention center in Japan after Chizuru Akitani, a hafu (half-Japanese/half-American) middle-school student, kills her bully. Her American mother had recently committed suicide, leaving Chizuru in the care of her father, a world-renowned violinist more interested in his music than his daughter. Following her release from the center, Chizuru changes her name to Rio and moves to the United States to attend college, where she studies to become a nurse. She soon marries and has a daughter, but her peaceful middle-class life is disrupted when a package from her recently deceased father arrives at her home in Boulder, CO. Rio travels to Japan for his funeral, where she meets up with Ms. Danny, her favorite teacher from middle school. In Luce's world there is no such thing as coincidence, and the two women embark on a pilgrimage. This chance meeting forces Rio to come to terms with her past in ways Chizuru never could have imagined. VERDICT This novel about identity, family, bullying, and violence never loses its center. Readers will empathize with Rio, a complex, angry yet sympathetic character.—Pamela Mann, St. Mary's Coll. Lib., MD
Kirkus Reviews
2016-08-16
Debut novel from the award-winning author of the story collection Three Scenarios in Which Hana Sasaki Grows a Tail (2013).Rio Silvestri is a nurse living in Boulder, Colorado. She has a husband, Sal, and a daughter, Lily. Sal and Lily both know that Rio grew up in Japan and that she’s estranged from her father. What they don’t know is that, before she changed her name, Rio was Chizuru Akitani, daughter of the world-famous violinist Hiro Akitani. Nor do they know that, when she was 12 years old, Chizuru Akitani killed one of her classmates. When Hiro dies, Rio decides to go back to Japan for his funeral. While there, she discovers new truths about her father—and herself—and her carefully constructed life begins to unravel. For a book about murder, rage, and explosive family secrets, this novel is shockingly dull. The story moves at a plodding pace, all sense of momentum undercut by Luce’s apparent inability to distinguish telling details from narrative clutter. For example, there’s a whole paragraph devoted to “Sal’s famous blueberry-mint vinaigrette,” but Rio remains, throughout, a cipher. Momentous events occur, but the protagonist doesn’t really change, and readers will end the novel with no better sense of who or what Rio is—or who or what Chizuru was—than they had at the beginning. It emerges that Chizuru was an unhappy child, bullied at school and neglected by her father. Her mother, a free-spirited American artist, killed herself. But not every child who suffers adversity becomes a killer. Rio refers to the “black organ” inside her, which is a lovely metaphor but in no way illuminating. And the redemptive note on which the novel ends feels unearned—not in a moral sense but aesthetically—and disingenuous, self-help platitudes from a solipsistic heroine who has learned nothing from her journey. A potentially interesting story sapped of interest by slow pacing and lack of character development.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780374238582
Publisher:
Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Publication date:
11/01/2016
Pages:
272
Sales rank:
123,470
Product dimensions:
5.70(w) x 8.40(h) x 1.00(d)

Meet the Author

Kelly Luce is the author of the short-story collection Three Scenarios in Which Hana Sasaki Grows a Tail, which won Foreword Reviews's 2013 Editor's Choice Prize for Fiction. A native of Illinois, she holds a degree in cognitive science from Northwestern University and an MFA from the Michener Center for Writers at the University of Texas at Austin. She is a fellow at Harvard's Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study and a contributing editor for Electric Literature. She lives in California's Santa Cruz Mountains.

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