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BOUND TO PLEASE / Don’t fear to step forward into mud

The Japan News

By Ayako Hirayama / Japan News Staff Writer Death and the Flower

By Koji Suzuki

Veritcal, 223pp

Judging this book by its title, you might expect another horror story from Koji Suzuki, author of the best-selling “Ring” trilogy. But it’s not about ghosts, grudges or anything modern science cannot explain. Suzuki has taken a different approach to scaring his readers this time, with more believable characters and plots.

“Death and the Flower,” Suzuki’s ninth work available in English, is a collection of six short stories that center on families facing various challenges and crises. We know we will all die, but death is perceived by many as a distant event. By depicting mediocre characters and their everyday lives, Suzuki illustrates that life and death lie side by side. However, he is not pessimistic about that.

Suzuki believes life is worth living despite unknown danger. He wrote in his afterword: “Even when wrongs proliferate, or death approaches, the world is worth it … If you don’t first accept whole the phenomenon that is humanity, which bears evil within itself, you can’t take the next step.”

This view is most notable in “Avidya,” a story about a father who gathers his courage to save his family from a “terrifying, offensive situation.” It’s intriguing that Suzuki renders this view through the use of a Buddhist mantra, which encourages people to step forward although life means stepping into mud. The story’s ending is dramatic, stirring the reader’s curiosity.

Suzuki also challenges stereotypes of traditional roles of men and women. The book’s opener, “Disposal Diapers and a Race Replica,” revolves around a father who chooses to be a “househusband” to look after his newborn daughter. A near-death experience caused by a gang’s reckless act sparks in him a desire to seek revenge, but he comes to a realization that stops him from turning to violence.

“Embrace” is about a single mother whose child has a hearing disability. The story illustrates the strength of a woman who does not rely on a man.

Suzuki once said in an interview that his desire is to give readers a catalyst to change their fixed conceptions by invoking the power of courage and reason to overcome fear. This idea appears to be his writing philosophy.

“Beyond the Darkness” is tale of psychological suspense centering on a married couple who moves into a new apartment and are tormented by a vicious prank caller. Suzuki builds up the tension as the husband tries to figure out who the prank caller is.

His ability to depict a character with complicated feelings is on superb display in “Key West.” It’s about a man who endures emotional devastation after his wife and son die in a car accident and finds something to live for during a trip with his daughter. “Irregular Breathing” also involves an anxious character, whose pregnant wife is on a ventilator.

A major key to the collection is parental care. When Suzuki was a struggling novelist, he took on household and child care duties while his wife was working as a schoolteacher. His personal experience of raising two daughters adds weight to the collection.

The stories in “Death and the Flower” are not conventional thrillers that give the reader a shiver. Instead they offer a chance to reflect on life, which includes both light and darkness.

Where to read

At your usual hangout place while listening to Keith Jarrett’s album “Death and the Flower.”

Maruzen price: ¥3,350 plus tax (as of Jan. 20.2016) Speech

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