Revenge: Eleven Dark Tales

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Overview

“It's not just Murakami but also the shadow of Borges that hovers over this mesmerizing book… [and] one may detect a slight bow to the American macabre of E.A. Poe. Ogawa stands on the shoulders of giants, as another saying goes. But this collection may linger in your mind — it does in mine — as a delicious, perplexing, absorbing and somehow singular experience.” —Alan Cheuse, NPR

Sinister forces collide—-and unite a host of desperate characters—-in this eerie cycle of ...

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Overview

“It's not just Murakami but also the shadow of Borges that hovers over this mesmerizing book… [and] one may detect a slight bow to the American macabre of E.A. Poe. Ogawa stands on the shoulders of giants, as another saying goes. But this collection may linger in your mind — it does in mine — as a delicious, perplexing, absorbing and somehow singular experience.” —Alan Cheuse, NPR

Sinister forces collide—-and unite a host of desperate characters—-in this eerie cycle of interwoven tales from Yoko Ogawa, the critically acclaimed author of The Housekeeper and the Professor.

 

An aspiring writer moves into a new apartment and discovers that her landlady has murdered her husband. Elsewhere, an accomplished surgeon is approached by a cabaret singer, whose beautiful appearance belies the grotesque condition of her heart. And while the surgeon’s jealous lover vows to kill him, a violent envy also stirs in the soul of a lonely craftsman. Desire meets with impulse and erupts, attracting the attention of the surgeon’s neighbor—-who is drawn to a decaying residence that is now home to instruments of human torture. Murderers and mourners, mothers and children, lovers and innocent bystanders—-their fates converge in an ominous and darkly beautiful web.

Yoko Ogawa’s Revenge is a master class in the macabre that will haunt you to the last page. 

An NPR Best Book of 2013

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Weaving together the morbid tales of 11 unnamed narrators, prolific Japanese author Ogawa (Hotel Iris), a Shirley Jackson Award winner, presents an intense rumination on the precariousness of interconnected lives. A jigsaw pleasure comes from anecdotes and details slipping into place between most stories, deepening characters and thematic resonance. In “Old Mrs. J,” a struggling novelist recalls the antics of her next-door neighbor, who discovers “a carrot in the shape of a hand” in her garden. Later, the handless body of her ex-husband also turns up in the soil. “Sewing for the Heart” is an intricate character study examining the life of a bag maker commissioned by a woman whose vulnerable heart rests outside her chest: “It could fit in the palm of my hand. A pale pink membrane of delicate muscle tissue surrounded it. What extraordinary, breathtaking beauty!” The final story, “Poison Plants” ties up a lot of loose ends and includes a brief authorial transparency that helps seal the spartan collection. The thrills are sometimes cheap and the connections between stories membrane thin, but Ogawa makes it count with her precision and dedication to bringing the vision full-circle. Agent: Anna Stein, Aitken Alexander Associates. (Jan.)
Kirkus Reviews
Ogawa (Hotel Iris, 2010, etc.) crafts 11 interlocking short stories with eloquent prose that belies the nature of the tales she spins. A mother walks into a bakery to buy two strawberry shortcakes for her son's birthday, a child who's been dead for 12 years. A girl asks a classmate to accompany her to a meeting with her father as her mother lies in a hospital bed dying of cancer. What appears to be a collection of sympathetically worded, yet familiar, short stories then veers into the unexpected. With dark calm and disquieting imagery, the author leads readers on a journey of the macabre in a progression of tales that resound long after the last page is turned. An aspiring writer discovers that her landlady, who grows carrots shaped like hands, is a murderer. A cabaret singer whose heart developed outside her body asks a bag maker to sew a special one to house the heart, making it less cumbersome to carry, but she then tells him she's having a surgical procedure to have the heart placed in her chest. A beautician tours a museum that houses torture devices and imagines using tweezers to pluck out her boyfriend's hair, strand by strand, as he watches in a mirror, bound and helpless. Ogawa's writing is simple and effective, and her technique for merging the tales demonstrates her mastery of the written word: A dead hamster tossed into a trash can in one story is glimpsed by a character in another; an uncle who invents a brace to lengthen the body becomes the caretaker of a museum, which then becomes the setting for other narratives. And although the stories may be perceived as gruesome, the author paints each tale exquisitely. Well-written.
From the Publisher
"Although the stories may be perceived as gruesome, the author paints each tale exquisitely. Well-written." —-Kirkus
The Barnes & Noble Review
Revenge: Eleven Dark Tales by Yoko Ogawa is the literary equivalent of an Escher drawing. Beautifully executed in sharp detail and largely free of ornamentation, Ogawa's stories are both mesmerizing and confounding. They take sudden, ghastly turns. Time loses direction as the past leaks into the present, one narrative into another. Finishing a story, the reader is compelled to return to an earlier one to glimpse where a character has already appeared and how the whole structure fits together. It doesn't. Or it does, but only in a glancing way. Yet the overall effect is more entrancing than frustrating, perhaps because the vivid, often sunlit reality that Ogawa invents is so eerily inviting.

"It was a beautiful Sunday," the first tale begins, "?Out on the square, leaves fluttered in a gentle breeze along the pavement?. Squeaky sounds could be heard from a man in a corner, who was twisting balloon animals. A circle of children watched him, entranced?. Somewhere a horn sounded. A flock of pigeons burst into the air, and startled a baby who began to cry."

In a bakery, two women, waiting to be served, discuss strawberry shortcake.
"I'm buying them for my son. Today is his birthday." "Really? Well, I hope it's a happy one. How old is he?" "Six. He'll always be six. He's dead."
The blow is swift and the details dreadful — a vacant lot, an abandoned refrigerator — but the tone remains level as Ogawa, in a few pages, portrays a mother deranged by grief. But why is the girl in the bakery kitchen crying? We find out when we meet her, as a schoolgirl, in the second story. And the old lady, barely mentioned, who discovers the dead child? The final tale, Dickensian in its pathos, is hers. Nine stories lie between the two that form the collection's tragic circle; a couple of them poignant vignettes, all of them oddly still and muted, even when filled with action.

In "Old Mrs. J," for example, a novelist observes the bizarre activities of her elderly landlady, who stashes her harvest of kiwis by night and grows disturbing hand-shaped carrots. A murder will come to light, yet mundane details hold the greatest force. "A single curtain hung in her window," the tenant notices, "the other was missing?. Whenever I looked up from my desk, I would see that orphaned curtain." With similar acuity, the leatherworker in "Sewing for the Heart" observes of his creations, "A bag has no intentions or desires of its own, it embraces every object?. To me, a bag is patience?" When he is asked to fashion one to enclose a living heart, that organ reminds him of "a small slumbering animal."

Melancholy tenderness suffuses even the most macabre tale. There is the doctor, murdered by his mistress, whose severed tongue falls out of his discarded lab coat. The sinister curator of a museum of torture instruments and the love-scarred beautician he inspires. The Bengal tiger dying in the museum garden. "Even lying prostrate, it seemed to be coiled and ready to attack; the paws looked heavy?. Every bit of the tiger seemed to have a purpose, to be ideally suited to the hunt." Ogawa's characters, however ferocious, are fragile. Artfully placed by their creator within the web of this collection, they seem powerless but never diminished.

Anna Mundow, a longtime contributor to The Irish Times and The Boston Globe, has written for The Guardian, The Washington Post, and The New York Times, among other publications.

Reviewer: Anna Mundow

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780312674465
  • Publisher: Picador
  • Publication date: 1/29/2013
  • Edition description: First Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 176
  • Sales rank: 246,085
  • Product dimensions: 5.30 (w) x 8.20 (h) x 0.60 (d)

Meet the Author

Yoko Ogawa's fiction has appeared in The New Yorker, A Public Space, and Harper’s Magazine. Since 1988, she has produced more than twenty works of fiction and nonfiction, which have been published in several countries. Her novel Hotel Iris was shortlisted for the Man Asian Literary Prize in 2010.

Stephen Snyder  teaches Japanese literature at Middlebury College. His translations include works by Kzaburō Ōe, Ryu Murakami, Natsuo Kirino, and Miri Yu.

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Read an Excerpt

AFTERNOON AT THE BAKERY

 

 

It was a beautiful Sunday. The sky was a cloudless dome of sunlight. Out on the square, leaves fluttered in a gentle breeze along the pavement. Everything seemed to glimmer with a faint luminescence: the roof of the ice-cream stand, the faucet on the drinking fountain, the eyes of a stray cat, even the base of the clock tower covered with pigeon droppings.

Families and tourists strolled through the square, enjoying the weekend. Squeaky sounds could be heard from a man off in the corner, who was twisting balloon animals. A circle of children watched him, entranced. Nearby, a woman sat on a bench knitting. Somewhere a horn sounded. A flock of pigeons burst into the air, and startled a baby who began to cry. The mother hurried over to gather the child in her arms.

You could gaze at this perfect picture all day—an afternoon bathed in light and comfort—and perhaps never notice a single detail out of place, or missing.

*   *   *

As I pushed through the revolving door of the bakery and walked inside, the noise of the square was instantly muffled, and replaced by the sweet scent of vanilla. The shop was empty.

“Excuse me,” I called hesitantly. There was no reply, so I decided to sit down on a stool in the corner and wait.

It was my first time in the bakery, a neat, clean, modest little shop. Cakes, pies, and chocolates were carefully arranged in a glass case, and tins of cookies lined shelves on either side. On the counter behind the register was a roll of pretty orange and light blue checkered wrapping paper.

Everything looked delicious. But I knew before I entered the shop what I would buy: two strawberry shortcakes. That was all.

The bell in the clock tower rang four times. Once more a flock of pigeons rose into the sky and flew across the square, settling in front of the flower shop. The florist came out with a scowl on her face and a mop to drive them away, and a flurry of gray feathers wafted into the air.

There was no sign of anyone in the shop, and after waiting a little while longer I considered giving up and leaving. But I had only recently moved to this town and I did not know of another good bakery. Perhaps the fact that they could keep customers waiting like this was a sign of confidence, rather than rudeness. The light in the glass display case was pleasant and soft, the pastries looked beautiful, and the stool was quite comfortable—I liked the place, in spite of the service.

A short, plump woman stepped from the revolving door. Noise from the square filtered in behind her and faded away. “Is anybody here?” she called out. “Where could she have gone?” she added, turning and smiling at me. “She must be out on an errand. I’m sure she’ll be right back.” She sat down next to me and I gave a little bow.

“I suppose I could get behind the counter and serve you myself,” the woman said. “I know pretty well how things work around here, I sell them their spices.”

“That’s very kind of you, but I’m not in a hurry,” I said.

We waited together. She rearranged her scarf, tapped the toe of her shoe, and anxiously fidgeted with the clasp on a black leather wallet—apparently used to collect her accounts. I realized she was trying to come up with a topic for conversation.

“The cakes here are delicious,” she said at last. “They use our spices, so you know there’s nothing funny in them.”

“That’s reassuring,” I said.

“The place is usually very busy. Strange that it’s so empty today. There’s often a line outside.”

People passed by the shop window—young couples, old men, tourists, a policeman on patrol—but no one seemed interested in the bakery. The woman turned to look out at the square, and ran her fingers through her wavy white hair. Whenever she moved in her seat, she gave off an odd smell; the scent of medicinal herbs and overripe fruit mingled with the vinyl of her apron. It reminded me of when I was a child, and the smell of the little greenhouse in the garden where my father used to raise orchids. I was strictly forbidden to open the door; but once, without permission, I did. The scent of the orchids was not at all disagreeable, and this pleasant association made me like the old woman.

“I was happy to see they have strawberry shortcake,” I said, pointing at the case. “They’re the real thing. None of that jelly, or too much fruit piled on top, or those little figurines they use for decoration. Just strawberries and cream.”

“You’re right,” she said. “I can guarantee they’re good. The best thing in the shop. The base is made with our special vanilla.”

“I’m buying them for my son. Today is his birthday.”

“Really? Well, I hope it’s a happy one. How old is he?”

“Six. He’ll always be six. He’s dead.”

*   *   *

He died twelve years ago. Suffocated in an abandoned refrigerator left in a vacant lot. When I first saw him, I didn’t think he was dead. I thought he was just ashamed to look me in the eye because he had stayed away from home for three days.

An old woman I had never seen before was standing nearby, looking dazed, and I realized that she must have been the one who had found him. Her hair was disheveled, her face pale, and her lips were trembling. She looked more dead than my son.

“I’m not angry, you know,” I said to him. “Come here and let me give you a hug. I bought the shortcake for your birthday. Let’s go back to the house.”

But he didn’t move. He had curled up in an ingenious fashion to fit between the shelves and the egg box, with his legs carefully folded and his face tucked between his knees. The curve of his spine receded into a dark, cramped space behind him that I could not see. The skin on his neck caught the light from the open door. It was so smooth, covered in soft down—I knew it all too well.

“No, it couldn’t be,” I said to the old woman nearby. “He’s just sleeping. He hasn’t eaten anything, and he must be exhausted. Let’s carry him home and try not to wake him. He should sleep, as much as he wants. He’ll wake up later, I’m sure of it.”

But the woman did not answer.

*   *   *

The reaction of the woman in the shop to my story was unlike anything I’d encountered in the past. There was no sign of sympathy or surprise or even embarrassment on her face. I would have known if she was merely pretending to respond so placidly. The experience of losing my son had taught me to read people, and I could tell immediately that this woman was genuine. She neither regretted having asked me the question nor blamed me for confessing something so personal to a stranger.

“Well,” she said, “then it was lucky you chose this bakery. There are no better pastries anywhere; your son will be pleased. And they include a whole box of birthday candles for free. They’re darling—red, blue, pink, yellow, some with flowers or butterflies, animals, anything you could want.”

She smiled faintly, in a way that seemed perfectly suited to the quiet of the bakery. I found myself wondering whether she understood that my son had died. Or perhaps she knew only too well about people dying.

*   *   *

Long after I had realized that my son would not be coming back, I kept the strawberry shortcake we were meant to have eaten together. I passed my days watching it rot. First, the cream turned brown and separated from the fat, staining the cellophane wrapper. Then the strawberries dried out, wrinkling up like the heads of deformed babies. The sponge cake hardened and crumbled, and finally a layer of mold appeared.

“Mold can be quite beautiful,” I told my husband. The spots multiplied, covering the shortcake in delicate blotches of color.

“Get rid of it,” my husband said.

I could tell he was angry. But I did not understand why he would speak so harshly about our son’s birthday cake. So I threw it in his face. Mold and crumbs covered his hair and his cheeks, and a terrible smell filled the room. It was like breathing in death.

*   *   *

The strawberry shortcakes were displayed right on the upper shelf of the pastry case, the most prominent place in the shop. Each was topped with three whole strawberries. They looked perfectly preserved, no sign of mold.

“I think I’ll be going,” the old woman said. She stood up, smoothed her apron, and glanced out the window toward the square, as though looking one last time for the return of the bakery shop girl.

“I’ll wait a little longer,” I said.

“You do that,” she said, reaching out to gently touch my hand. Hers was callused and wrinkled—made rough by her work—and she had dirt under her fingernails. Still, her hand was warm and comforting, perhaps like the heat from those little birthday candles she had mentioned. “I’m going to check on a couple of places where the girl might be, and if I find her I’ll tell her to come straight back.”

“Thank you,” I said.

“Not at all … Good-bye.”

Clutching her wallet under her arm, she turned to leave. As she stepped through the revolving door, I noticed that her apron strings were coming untied in the back. I tried to stop her, but I was too late. She disappeared into the crowd in the square, and I was alone again.

*   *   *

He was an intelligent child. He could read his favorite picture book from beginning to end aloud without making a single mistake. He would use a different voice for each character—the piglet, the prince, the robot, the old man. He was left-handed. He had a broad forehead and a mole on one earlobe. When I was busy making dinner, he would often ask questions I did not know how to answer. Who invented Chinese characters? Why do people grow? What is air? Where do we go when we die?

After he was gone, I began to collect newspaper clippings about children who had died under tragic circumstances. Each day I would go to the library and gather articles from every newspaper and magazine, and then make copies of them.

An eleven-year-old girl who was raped and buried in a forest. A nine-year-old boy abducted by a deviant and later found in a wine crate with both of his ankles severed. A ten-year-old on a tour of an ironworks who slipped from a catwalk and was instantly dissolved in the smelter. I would read these articles aloud, reciting them like poems.

*   *   *

How had I not noticed before? I rose slightly from my seat and looked past the counter. A doorway behind the cash register was half open, and I could see into the kitchen. A young woman was standing inside with her face turned away. I was about to call out to her, but I stopped myself. She was talking to someone on the telephone, and she was crying.

I couldn’t hear anything, but I could see her shoulders trembling. Her hair had been gathered carelessly under a white cap. Despite some spots of cream and chocolate, her apron looked neat and pressed. Her slight frame seemed almost that of a little girl.

I returned to my stool and looked out at the square. The balloon seller was still making animals for the children. Pigeons were clustered here and there, and the woman was still knitting on the bench. Nothing appeared to have changed, except that the shadow of the clock tower had grown longer and thinner.

The kitchen was as neatly arranged as the shop. Bowls, knives, mixers, pastry bags, sifters—everything needed for the work of the day was right where it should be. The dishtowels were clean and dry, the floor spotless. And in the middle of it stood the girl, her sadness perfectly at home in the tidy kitchen. I could hear nothing, not a word, not a sound. Her hair swayed slightly with her sobs. She was looking down at the counter, her body leaning against the oven. Her right hand clutched a napkin. I couldn’t see the expression on her face, but her misery was clear from the clench of her jaw, the pallor of her neck, and the tense grip of her fingers on the telephone.

The reason she was crying didn’t matter to me. Perhaps there was no reason at all. Her tears had that sort of purity.

*   *   *

The door that would not open no matter how hard you pushed, no matter how long you pounded on it. The screams no one heard. Darkness, hunger, pain. Slow suffocation. One day it occurred to me that I needed to experience the same suffering he had.

First, I turned off our refrigerator and emptied it: last night’s potato salad, ham, eggs, cabbage, cucumbers, wilted spinach, yogurt, some cans of beer, pork—I pulled everything out and threw it aside. The ketchup spilled, eggs broke, ice cream melted. But the refrigerator was empty now, so I took a deep breath, curled myself into a ball, and slowly worked my way inside.

As the door closed, all light vanished. I could no longer tell whether my eyes were open or shut, and I realized that it made no difference in here. The walls of the refrigerator were still cool. Where does death come from?

*   *   *

“What do you think you’re doing?” my husband said as he ripped open the refrigerator door.

“I’m going to him.” I tried to brush away his shaking hand and close the door again.

“That’s enough,” he said, pulling me from the refrigerator. He slapped my face. Then he left me.

*   *   *

Not one person in the crowd on the square knew that a young woman was crying in the kitchen behind the bakery. I was the only witness.

The afternoon sunlight streaming in through the window had darkened, as the sun began to dip below the roof of the town hall. The man on the square with the popular balloon animals performed now for only a few children. A group of people had gathered around the clock tower to take pictures of the automaton show as the bell struck five.

I knew I had only to call out to the girl, and then I could make my purchase and leave, but I refrained. Her starched apron was slightly too large, which made her seem all the more small and vulnerable. I noticed the perspiration on her neck, her wrinkled cuffs and long fingers, and I imagined how she must look when she is working. I could see her taking the steaming sponge cakes from the oven, piping on the cream, and arranging each strawberry with infinite care. I was certain she would make the finest shortcakes in the world.

*   *   *

Several years after my son died, when I began living alone, I received an odd phone call. The voice was unfamiliar but clearly that of a young man. He sounded a little nervous, yet he spoke politely as he mentioned my son’s name.

“What?” I gasped, for a moment paralyzed.

“Is he at home?” he said.

“No, he’s not,” I managed to say.

“Well then … I just wanted to speak to him about the reunion. For our middle school class. Do you know when he’ll be back?”

I told him he wasn’t home, that he’s living abroad, going to school.

“Oh, that’s too bad,” he said. “I was looking forward to seeing him.” He sounded genuinely disappointed.

“Were you friends?”

“Yes. We were in the theater club together. He was president and I was vice president.”

“The theater club?”

“We won the city competition and went on to the nationals. You remember, we did Man of Flame. He played Van Gogh, and I played his brother, Theo. He was always the leading man, the ladies’ man, and I was his sidekick. Not just on stage but in life. He was always in the limelight.”

Somehow it didn’t bother me that he was talking about a completely different person. Nor did I try to correct him. My son had read his picture books so well that it seemed quite likely he might have had a leading role in a play one day.

“Is he still acting?”

“Yes—”

“Really? I thought so. Could you tell him I called?”

“Of course, I will.”

After he had hung up, I held the phone to my ear for a moment, listening to the hum of the dial tone. I never heard from him again.

*   *   *

The bell in the clock tower began to ring. A flock of pigeons lifted into the sky. As the fifth chime sounded, a door beneath the clock opened and a little parade of animated figurines pirouetted out—a few soldiers, a chicken, and a skeleton. Since the clock was very old, the figurines were slightly discolored, their movements stiff and awkward. The chicken’s head swiveled about as if to squawk; the skeleton danced. And then, from the door, an angel appeared, beating her golden wings.

The girl in the kitchen replaced the receiver. I held my breath. She looked down at the phone for a moment, then she heaved a deep sigh and dabbed at her tears with the napkin.

I repeated to myself what I would say when she emerged into the fading light of the shop: “Two strawberry shortcakes, please.”

 

Copyright © 1998 by Yoko Ogawa

English translation copyright © 2013 by Stephen Snyder

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Sort by: Showing all of 3 Customer Reviews
  • Posted January 27, 2014

    Loved it!

    Beautifully written in crisp and evocative prose, this compilation of stories links the lives of a variety of protagonists, some of whom are eccentric, murderous or sadly damaged. As you read, follow the kiwis and hearts because they tie the stories together. Imagine a beautiful singer born with her heart outside of her body, adulterous lovers, a dead hamster in a trash can, an abandoned building filled with boxes of kiwis and a mystical re-connection between two schoolmates who remember each other's kindness. These are twisted fairy tales that are fresh and tangy.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted February 4, 2013

    Lilypetal

    If anyone sees this, Ive gotten locked out of EVERY book ive ever posted in.

    0 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 13, 2012

    Prison

    For bad characters

    0 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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