The Akutagawa Prize-Winning Novel
As an unnamed Tokyo taxi driver works a night shift, picking up fares that offer him glimpses into the lives of ordinary people, he can’t escape his own nihilistic thoughts. Almost without meaning to, he puts himself in harm’s way; he can’t stop daydreaming of suicide, envisioning himself returning to the earth in obsessive fantasies that soon become terrifying blackout episodes. The truth is, his long-estranged father has tried to reach out to him, triggering a cascade of traumatic memories. As the cab driver wrestles with the truth about his past and the history of violence in his childhood, he must also confront his present, which is no less complicated or grim.
A precursor to Los Angeles Times Book Prize finalist The Thief, The Boy in the Earth is a closely told character study that poses a difficult question: Are some lives so damaged they are beyond redemption? Is every child worth trying to save? A poignant and thought-provoking tour de force by one of Japan’s leading literary voices.
|Publisher:||Soho Press, Incorporated|
|Product dimensions:||5.50(w) x 8.40(h) x 0.60(d)|
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In the flood of headlights surrounding me, I saw that there was no escape. The motorcycles were just gunning their engines and watching me as I stood there, helpless to do anything. But I doubted that this standoff would go on for much longer. I figured soon these guys would get off their bikes and beat me with the iron pipes they were holding until they were satisfied.
Fear had made my legs go unpleasantly weak, but for some time now, I had been distracted by the thought that I must have been expecting all of this to happen. Until just a little while ago, I had been aimlessly wandering around the late night streets. With no destination, smoking as I walked, it was as if I had been searching for the city’s darkest places, bidden by the poorly lit streets. I had encountered these guys in front of a vending machine beside a park. They had stopped their bikes and were still sitting astride them, drinking juice, munching away and smoking cigarettes like they were drunk. At first, they hadn’t paid attention to me. They had been cheerfully howling with laughter—that is, until I threw my cigarette butt toward them.
I did what I did on purpose—with clear intention. It was not unconscious, nor was it for no reason at all—I was completely cognizant and aware of my actions. It was something I had to do, show these dregs of society what I thought of them, hanging out in a place like this. Those were my thoughts at the time. But now, awash in the light of their motorcycles, I could not fathom why I had felt that way.
There was no question, though, that here I found myself in a predicament. I had done something stupid without thinking of the consequences—that was all there was to it—but this kind of thing happened to me with some regularity. Just the day before yesterday, a car was making a right-hand turn against the light and, for no reason other than to demonstrate how dangerous it was, instead of trying to avoid it I deliberately stopped in the middle the crosswalk, right in front of the car so that the driver had no choice but to slam on the brakes. What both these instances had in common was that the direct result of my own actions put me in danger—it was my own behavior that thrust me into unfavorable conditions.
“Hey, what do you think you’re doing?” A guy with a shaved head who was most likely the leader got off his bike, his eyes unfocused. The others were still revving their engines, like in a kind of ritual. When the leader raised the iron pipe, his expression was hollow, as if he had no interest in what might happen to my body when he brought the pipe down. The blow landed on my side with an unexpectedly intense pain that knocked the wind out of me, and a moment later an unbearable jolt of searing heat coursed through my entire body. I found it difficult to breathe—I barely managed to inhale through my constricted throat. A frail, inside-out voice leaked from my lips. The shivers of pain and fear that wracked my body would not stop. I tried to stand up, but my ankle and knee joints were so stiff they didn’t seem to work.
“Your money, all of it. And then, right . . . t-ten more of those and we’ll let you go!” he said and, as if waiting to see what I would do, he lit a cigarette. All I had on me at the time were a few coins, all of them probably didn’t even add up to a thousand yen. Still, I shook my head. I tried to speak, but my face felt like it was on fire, and the next thing I knew, I was lying facedown on the ground. It felt cool against my cheeks, and the blood flowing from my gums had leaked out of my mouth in a trickle. I thought they might have lost interest by now, but the situation remained unchanged. I passed out, but just briefly—there was only a momentary gap in my consciousness.
“I guess it’s too much trouble to kill him.”
“We can’t let him get away with this.”
“Well, there’s no one here to see, and nobody knows us here either.”
At some point the sound of the engines had stopped. I could tell that several of the bikers were looking down at me. As I caught the scent of earth, I was seized by a strange sensation. My chest was buzzing with an unfamiliar feeling—it was deep within, though I was definitely aware of it—a feeling stirred by an anxiety that I never could have anticipated. This fear seemed to overwhelm my entire body. A faint smile cracked across my lips. If they kept kicking me, if they beat me to a pulp, I might vanish into nothing, I might be absorbed by the earth, deep underground. It was terrifying. I felt robbed of my strength, and my heart raced painfully, although the twitching that ran up and down my spine was not unpleasant. Little by little, this fearful trembling was transforming into something else entirely, like a feeling of anticipation. Despite my terror, there was the definite sensation that I was patiently standing by. I experienced a moment of skepticism, but then it no longer mattered. I worried about when these guys, all of them together, would start swinging their iron pipes at me again. I had the illusion of my body falling down, down, from a very high place. I worried about the impact when I hit bottom . . .
“Hey, wait a sec. What if while we had this guy, what if we called up a girl he knows on his cell phone and got her to come out here?”
“Sounds good, since we missed our chance before, right?”
“Cool. Yeah, let’s do it.”
I felt a crushing sense of disappointment. “What’s wrong with me?” I cried out nonsensically. They were quiet for a moment but soon they all erupted in laughter. I felt a pain in my side, and as my head was pushed down, my mouth filled with earth. They felt around in the pockets of my pants. A quiet disappointment spread through me. All they took was the coin wallet I was carrying, my cigarettes, and a lighter.
“Loser. Hey, this guy’s a loser.”
“We should kill him.”
“Wait, no, there’s no point in killing him.”
“Shut up, what do you care?”
“Hey, hang on a minute. If you kill him, then we’re really fucked.”
As they kicked me all over, I drifted out of awareness. Illuminated by the headlights of their motorcycles, I was a mere worm as I let them beat me mercilessly. I was in a state of excitement. I knew that was not an appropriate way to feel in this situation. I don’t mean that I experienced a masochistic pleasure from the pain of being kicked. Their attack was relentless; I felt only intense pain. Neither was there any intoxication from feeling worthless. How can I put it?—I was definitely waiting for something yet to come. I felt certain that the thing I was waiting for—whatever it was—was there. It was still unclear to me. But what loomed in my mind was that I may have been expecting it all along.
“There’s something strange about the noises this guy’s making,”
“He’s so funny, look at him.”
Their voices sounded far away, yet they didn’t let up. I felt an especially hard blow, and my mind began to sway to a strange rhythm. I felt as though my being was about to fracture—my vision blurred, and as an unbearable nausea came over me, I sputtered out vomit. But I did not want to lose consciousness yet. If I blacked out, that would be the end. Whatever it was would never arrive. This was my thought as I opened my eyes to feel the pain. If I could go on like this, maybe I could transform myself. But into what, I had no idea. I let out a scream. Even though it was my own voice, the cry that echoed in my head sounded unfamiliar.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
As the author writes in an afterward, he prefers to specialize in stories that “dive deep into the nature of society and humanity, stories that press on and attempt to reveal our true nature.” And that is exactly what this book is about. Basically the tale is a monologue by a twenty-something taxi driver, with an occasional interloping comment by his alcoholic girlfriend, recounting his life, from the abandonment by his parents to his current status. His early years were unstable, shuttled among various caretakers until he ended up in the hands of a distant relative who beat him constantly, creating for him what he believed to be the norm in life: pain, something that, to some extent, he craves even in adulthood. In his recounting of his present life, he provides flashes of the past. This slim volume is unlike the author’s previous four novels, which were crime thrillers. All, however, including “The Boy in the Earth,” demonstrate his spare writing, with the prose cut to the bone. In all, he delves deeply into the psychology of his characters. Recommended.
Not exactly a crime novel, more about childhood abuse and lasting effects. I've enjoyed other Nakamura novels, and found them to be suspenseful and interesting crime novels. The Boy in the Earth is about a man who has bad childhood memories that keep affecting his life. I found it lacking in substance. It is very short too, I was lucky I found a nice copy used.