The Fetishist

The Fetishist

by Katherine Min
The Fetishist

The Fetishist

by Katherine Min

Hardcover

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Overview

Notes From Your Bookseller

Timely, relevant and deeply engaging, The Fetishist boasts dark humor with scathing social commentary that will have you cackling and reflecting on deeper truths. Stylistically written with a delicious panache for good wordplay, this is a read that connects on multiple levels.

An Indie Next Pick

In this hilariously savage, poignant novel by acclaimed author Katherine Min, a grieving daughter’s revenge on the man who caused her mother’s death sets off a series of unexpected reckonings.


On a cold, gloomy night, twenty-three-year-old Kyoko stands in the rain with a knife in her hoodie’s pocket. Her target is Daniel, who seduced Kyoko’s mother then callously dropped her, leading to her death. But tonight, there will be repercussions. Following the unsuspecting Daniel home, Kyoko manages to get a rash kidnapping plot off the ground . . . and then nothing goes as planned.

The Fetishist is the story of three people—Kyoko, a Japanese American punk-rock singer full of rage and grief; Daniel, a philandering violinist forced to confront the wreckage of his past; and Alma, the love of Daniel’s life, a Korean American cello prodigy long adored for her beauty, passion, and talent, but who spends her final days examining if she was ever, truly, loved.

An exuberant, provocative story that confronts race, complicity, visibility, and ideals of femininity, The Fetishist was written before the celebrated author’s untimely death in 2019. Startlingly prescient, as wise and powerful as it is utterly delightful, this novel cements Katherine Min’s legacy as a writer with a singular voice for our times.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780593713655
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 01/09/2024
Pages: 304
Sales rank: 54,282
Product dimensions: 6.40(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.50(d)

About the Author

Katherine Min received an NEA grant, a Pushcart Prize, a Sherwood Anderson Foundation Fiction Award, two New Hampshire State Council on the Arts Fellowships, and a North Carolina Arts Council Artist Fellowship, and attended residencies at MacDowell, Yaddo, Jentel, Ucross, Hambidge, the Millay Colony, and Ledig House. Her acclaimed debut novel, Secondhand World, was a finalist for the PEN/Bingham Award in 2007. The Fetishist is her first posthumous publication. katherinekmin.com

Read an Excerpt

Kyoko, the assassin

She should have known better. She should have read the signs: the girl, the rain, the crazed quality of light. The sky had been gray, streaked with black, and the rain-backlit in halogen and neon-had fallen sallow green. Why hadn't she seen it then? Nothing auspicious could have transpired beneath such a sky; it was sickly and low-down and regarded the city with a jaundiced eye.

At the time, though, she had read it differently. It had been cold, and damp, and inhospitable, and it had seemed to Kyoko like the perfect evening to kill Daniel Karmody.

She had followed him ten blocks from the enormous brownstone in Baltimore's fanciest downtown neighborhood. He had been performing there for a dying man with his string quartet. It was his pathetic little business these days, playing music for the rich and dying. Kyoko hadn't expected him to come out with someone-a thin, trench-coated female, carrying a violin case (of course! some things never changed!)-and it had enraged her, this added insult, this further blow to her mother's memory. It had seemed like another sign, urging her on toward a justice too long delayed. She had held her umbrella low in front of her face, stopping once in a while to pretend to inspect rain-soaked notices on lampposts, hanging back at crosswalks, maintaining a half-block distance, until the pair had gone up the stone steps of Rafferty's Olde Tyme Grill and disappeared behind its huge wooden door.

Kyoko had waited then, in the shadow of the stone staircase, back behind a line of dumpsters, listening to The Cramps through her earbuds. If you had seen her, you would have thought she looked more Hello Kitty than killer, in her oversize hoodie and size five-and-a-half salmon-colored sneakers. With her heart-shaped face and Day-Glo blue forelock sticking out from beneath her umbrella, she was a bedraggled elf seeking refuge under a mushroom.

But in spite of her cuteness, her size (5´3˝, 103 pounds), and her age (twenty-three), Kyoko's life had been deformed by grief; grief, in turn, twisted to hate, hate hammered to anger, until the anger, the hate, and the grief had become grotesquely fused. Kyoko believed that violence would alleviate all three. In fact, she had bet on it.

In the kangaroo pocket of her hoodie, she held the handle of a yanagi sashimi knife with a seven-inch carbon steel blade. Forged in Seki, Japan, by the descendants of samurai sword makers, it seemed to Kyoko almost too fine a weapon for Daniel Karmody, whose soft, white belly she had long imagined gutting like a pig's.

The door to the restaurant opened and Kyoko caught a glimpse of the interior: elbows on red-checked tablecloths, the rose flickering of domed candles. Two couples appeared at the top of the stairs, putting up umbrellas, pushing arms through coat sleeves. Kyoko eased her grip on the knife and flexed her hand. Cramps, she thought, and smiled to herself; "People Ain't No Good" was blasting in her earbuds.

The Cramps' lead guitarist was one of Kyoko's many idols. Insolent in gold lamé or leopard-skin, Poison Ivy strummed her Gretsch Nashville like she was giving a hand job. Kyoko instinctively pressed the chords into the handle of her knife.

The door to the restaurant opened again, and this time Kyoko looked up to see Daniel Karmody at the top of the stairs with the woman he'd gone in with. Getting a good look finally, Kyoko saw that she was Asian-probably Korean, judging from her sullen features-and much too young for him, around Kyoko's age. Guys like Karmody made Kyoko sick, with their white-male entitlement and their power-trip fetishizing. They viewed Asian women as interchangeable sex dolls, and they never seemed to learn their lesson, never had to pay for what they'd done. But Kyoko was there to make Daniel Karmody pay.

They came down the stairs together, Karmody and the girl. He said something that Kyoko couldn't make out and the girl laughed. "Don't say that," she said. "It makes you sound ancient!" The gray expanse of Karmody's raincoat passed right in front of Kyoko, stopping mere yards away. Kyoko felt a pounding at her temples. Her legs went weak, and her whole body trembled. This was the moment. Carpe, carpe the moment! She thought, Vengeance. She thought, At last.

Kyoko had envisioned her revenge a thousand different ways since the day she had come home from school to find her mother on the bathroom floor. It would be seven years ago in October. Not that Kyoko registered her mother's death as a discrete event, happening at a particular moment. Instead, it was as if each moment since then had been compounded on that one event, accruing around it, so that her mother's death felt ongoing, always, inside a swollen and eternal present, in which Kyoko sat, in a buttered wedge of sunlight, on pale blue linoleum, smoothing her mother's nightgown down around her hips.

Daniel Karmody stood on the curb with one arm up. A blur of headlights passed without stopping. Kyoko depressed the latch on her umbrella, but it wouldn't close. Somewhere deep inside herself, she felt the small prescience of defeat, like the tick of a clock past the hour, but she shook it off. She tried to force the latch, or maybe it was a surge of wind, but the umbrella suddenly bloomed inside out, exposing its thin, silver ribs. Kyoko dropped it to the sidewalk and took a firm grip on her knife. She anticipated the shuddering thrust of the blade into resisting flesh, the unh-unh bewilderment of Daniel Karmody's last, grunting breaths.

But whatever it was that Kyoko had imagined for this moment, over the years of plans and schemes, strategies and daydreams, and long conversations with her boyfriend, Kornell Burke-right up until this afternoon's discovery on Facebook and her sudden impulse to action-whatever Kyoko had or could have imagined, this is what happened instead. As she brought her arm out, the knife tip snagged on the inside of her hoodie pocket, unfurling a thin thread of cotton filament. As she struggled to pull the knife free, she brought her foot down on the upended umbrella, her ankle catching between two spokes; she lurched a few steps forward with the umbrella fastened to her leg, like a bear in a trap, before she managed to kick herself free. Whereupon, she tripped, stumbled, staggered, righted herself-poised for an instant, graceful, plumb, like a ballerina en pointe-before pitching face forward onto the wet pavement. She felt a stunning smack to the underside of her chin. Tasted metal. Saw red. For a few seconds, she may have been unconscious.

Her rain-blurred eyes opened in time to witness the loathsome culprit, Daniel Karmody, opening a cab door. It seemed to Kyoko, just for a moment, that their gazes locked and he had seen her. But then he turned, and she could only watch, on hands and knees-from the sucker end of destiny-as he guided the girl inside, closed his umbrella smartly, folded himself inside the cab, first one leg, then the other. She heard him murmur a street address to the driver before the door slammed shut.


Daniel gets lucky

In the cab, they were silent. Daniel snuck a peek at the girl, who was staring straight ahead, a vague smile directed out the windshield. She was lovely, Melody Park, the name itself evocative of carousel and calliope, of geometric grass expanses. A pretty girl is like a melody . . . Wasn't that a song?

The cabdriver turned the wipers on intermittent and the world came at them, awash with color and light, in rain-blurred columns and branching rivulets, punctuated by unexpected clarity. He was Southeast Asian, a Hindu or a Sikh, with a dark red turban and thick beard. Daniel wondered if his glance, cast back in the rearview mirror, was reproving, or if Daniel only imagined censure behind the man's stony expression.

Daniel was surprised by his success with the girl. In truth, he'd only been going through the motions, grinding his gears in the worn tire ruts of seduction. He was taking the next three weeks off, to work on some new arrangements, he'd said, but really to try to sort out his life now that Sigrid had finally left him.

And immediately before the gig, there had been the Facebook message from Alma. What timing! At his most vulnerable, newly divorced, running late, checking Facebook to see if the new second violinist could make it after all, and-bam! Out of nowhere. After nearly two decades of silence.

His heart had lurched at the sight of Alma's name, then fallen as he hurriedly read her message. DK-I hope you're happy and that things are going well for you. A paragraph of vague niceties, a mention of her illness (which he already knew about, it was common knowledge) and her location (California, which he already knew), more lukewarm well-wishes including the phrase I'm not angry with you anymore, then the stultifying conclusion: Well, take care. -A.

It had seemed to Daniel so willfully, uncharacteristically, boring. Utterly devoid of the personal-a total repudiation of intimacy, past, present, or future-her message contained no questions, no apparent interest in a response. Why break the silence for this? Seemed a bit cruel. She had also, inexplicably, "liked" a photo of him and the quartet.

Thus, after the gig, Daniel had thought, in a state of creeping panic and emptiness, that a night of romance might cheer him. Instead, he found it all rather unsettling, the rain seeping into the toes of his good leather shoes; Melody's youth, his age; the way her sliced eggs had looked at him, accusingly, from atop her chef's salad. The fact that everything felt like aftermath, like auld lang syne, the memory of desire like a vestigial tail.

***

The evening had started with a joke. “An Irishman walks into a bar,” Daniel had begun, “orders ten shots of whiskey, and starts drinking them as fast as he can. The bartender asks”-here Daniel shifted into his ready Irish brogue-”’Aye, Paddy, why’re you drinking so fast?’ And Paddy replies, ‘You’d be drinking fast, too, if you’d got what I’ve got.’ The bartender says, ‘Aye, Paddy, what’ve you got?’ And Paddy says”- here Daniel had paused, beat, beat, beat-”’Eighty-five cents.’” Mr. Trask had laughed so hard he started to choke. His wife, who had not laughed, raised a glass of water to his lips, but he waved it away.

What had once been an enormous study had been transformed into a hospital. IV stands and heart monitors, like modern art installations, stood beside the Duncan Phyfe and Hepplewhite furniture. An electric bed presided, like a hulking stage prop, and Mr. Trask, with his translucent face, white hair thinning and unwashed, looked precisely the part of the dying man.

Daniel had helped Mr. Trask sit up straighter and thumped his back. He hadn't thought the joke was funny himself, his timing had been off, and eighty-five cents was clearly not the right amount, but he knew from experience that dying made people less discerning.

"'Eighty-five cents.' Oh, that is good," Mr. Trask had said, when he could speak again. The two men had continued to chuckle.

Mrs. Trask looked at them doubtfully. "Easy, Randall," she said.

"Oh, Annie," Mr. Trask said, "what's he going to do, kill me?"

He laughed again, and Mrs. Trask shook her head, miming vexation.

"What shall you play us this evening?" Mr. Trask asked Daniel.

"You're the boss," Daniel said.

"Then Death and the Maiden, maestro, please," Mr. Trask said.

"You got it," said Daniel. It was always Death and the Maiden for Mr. Trask these days.

"I'm the maiden," he said now, not for the first time.

"Yes," said Daniel. "Yes, you are."

***

The quartet had galloped to the finish line, riding it, kicking it, skidding so hard on the final D minor that the audience-the night nurse, Mr. and Mrs. Trask, their two daughters, two sons-in-law, and five grandchildren-hadn’t realized at first that it was over. Their ears had kept on ringing, retaining the music as memory, as sensation.

Daniel had brought the violin down from his chin and let his bow arm dangle on the back of his chair. The new second violinist sat next to him. She was young and beguiling, her dark hair falling forward onto her pale, serious face. He smiled at her as she turned to put her instrument away.

"Wonderful!" Mr. Trask applauded from his bed, his tufted pink head lolling. His arms were bone and cord, with green-blue tendrils of vein. Daniel smiled and waved his bow.

The only fault Daniel could find with the new violinist was in her chin. Her jaw sloped gracefully to the end of her face, curving toward beauty, already confident of it, and then-precipitously, incomprehensibly, like some eroded stone monument-it just fell away. She was still lovely, Daniel thought, but it was perplexing, this unfinished look of hers, her face coming to such a premature conclusion.

Mrs. Trask walked over to him now, extending her hand. "Thank you, Mr. Karmody," she said.

"Daniel," he prompted her.

"Daniel." Her blue eyes were pink-rimmed. She squeezed his palm. "You've given Randall so much pleasure."

Daniel bowed his head. Mrs. Trask was an attractive woman, considerably younger than her husband, with the blond patrician bearing of a young Grace Kelly. Daniel was aware that he was still holding her hand.

"You're very kind, Mrs. Trask," he said. He waited for her to offer her first name, which he knew to be Anne, but she did not. "Your husband is a lucky man."

"He was," she said with surprising vehemence, dropping his hand. "He was lucky." She hurried out of the room. Daniel considered going after her, but she had already disappeared.

Just a few weeks before, on a day when Mr. Trask had felt up to it, he'd shown Daniel his prize possession, a thin album of rare stamps locked in vinyl sheets. Errors, freaks, and oddities, he'd called them. His favorite was the Inverted Jenny, a twenty-four-cent stamp, issued in 1918, with an upside-down airplane. He had pointed out a six-fingered President Roosevelt stamp, and one that featured seven legs for four horses. "And this should be of particular interest to you," he'd said, indicating a blue square with his forefinger. "East Germany issued this one in 1956, to commemorate the composer Robert Schumann. Only one problem . . . Look closely at the piece of musical score in the background! Schubert!" Mr. Trask had laughed, a brittle, breaking sound, and Daniel had laughed with him, in the way that the healthy condescend to the dying.

 Daniel remembered now that it had been Mrs. Trask who had urged her husband to show Daniel the stamps that day. She had listened patiently to all Mr. Trask’s anecdotes, which she must have heard a thousand times, and, when he was finished, she’d covered his hand in her own for a moment before taking the album away. Strange that he should remember this briefest of gestures, her small, pale hand coming to rest atop her husband’s wide, liver-spotted one. Recalling it, Daniel felt close to tears.

One of the sons-in-law walked over to hand Daniel a check. "You’re gone the next few weeks, right?" he said.

Daniel nodded, blinking.

"Well, we’ll see you when you get back."

"Not likely," Roger, the violist, whispered to Daniel.

"Memorial service," Daniel whispered back. He wiped his eyes with the back of his hand. “Good job, guys,” he said, more loudly. Deirdre, the cellist, ignored him. The new second violinist—bless her—smiled. She was their third second violinist in eight months, as Roger kept reminding him. They’d had a hard time getting anyone on such short notice, and until this afternoon Daniel wasn’t sure she would show—repeated messages to her cell phone had gone unanswered—but she had posted on Thanatos’ Facebook page that she had lost her phone and would be there, which had reassured Daniel that everything would be okay. Though, seconds later, he had discovered the message from Alma.

Against his better judgment, and despite Roger’s look of warning, Daniel leaned into the curtain of Melody’s hair, which smelled of citrus fruits and coconut, like some tropical rum punch. With one slim hand, she gathered her hair to one side of her neck, and Daniel couldn’t help himself.  

"You did well," he said. 

"Thank you," the girl answered.

"Would you care to get a bite to eat?" He kept his voice low. It was not a general invitation, and anyway he knew that Roger had to hurry home to Nina and the kids, and that Deirdre would rather eat rat poison than go out to dinner with him. He saw a look of uncertainty cross the girl’s face, like a dark cloud, but, after a moment, she said yes, and Daniel felt almost giddy with relief.

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