I don’t know where to start my review of this book. So, let me just start from the beginning.
Please understand that this review contains MANY spoilers!
New York, US, where the whole story takes place, fictionally of course.
Thomas is a Hikikomori, or in other words a recluse- a person who withdraws himself to one place, mostly his room, but away from society. Obviously, something terrible has happened to him. His wife lives in the next room. Yes, same apartment but they’re not sharing a room together anymore. You find out soon enough that Thomas’s reason as to why he is this way is because he lost his son and blames himself entirely for it. To be completely honest, I thought it’d be something else, not that losing a child is not a big deal but I just thought it might be more… of a mystery? I guess people grieve in different ways, and the loss of a child is not a pain I ever wish to know. His wife Silke hasn’t left him. She stuck with him while talking to him between the wall/door, screaming at him, crying constantly, but mostly going about a relatively normal life for three years. Yes, he has been a Hikikomori for three years!
Silke’s last attempt to save their marriage, is to bring in a rental sister. A “sister” who is not a direct family member but someone who can possibly coax him out of the shell he’s created. Apparently it’s a phenomenon in Japan, a Hikikomori and a rental sister, one wouldn’t exist without the other. So Megumi, just an ordinary Japanese woman who is a clerk at a store somewhere in NY, starts to show up and talk to Thomas regularly. But she has her own deep and dark past of course. Her brother was a Hikikomori and died after being in a room for four years. She came to the US to escape everything.
Now, I understand why some people might think that this story is perverse. All three of them have issues. Thomas eventually has sex with Megumi and develops feelings for her that are totally different from the feelings he has for his wife. “A heart can love twice” he says. For him to start a new life with Megumi might be easier. Megumi,while her brother was still alive, wanted to take her brother away from his harsh reality where he was beaten up everyday for being half Japanese and half Korean. So she started to have sex for money. But her brother died before she could raise enough money to save him. She also falls for Thomas, it’s a pull that they feel for each other and honestly, I couldn’t understand it. Maybe he made her feel needed? She could save Thomas when she couldn’t save her brother? What was Silke thinking, bringing a young Japanese girl into her husband’s life? Did she know of the consequences that might happen? Was she okay with it? And Silke herself, sometimes brought men into the apartment to entice Thomas to come out and do something about it. Yes, it is all very wrong. But when I think more about it, that is what life is about. You become desperate and do anything and everything to cling on to what little hope you might have. We don’t live in a fairy tale world where you find the love of your life, your soul mate and live happily ever after. You work at a marriage, make mistakes, forgive them and move on, and sometimes move on with someone else.
So, I didn’t think this book was perverse, it was just writing about what was real. Ultimately, Thomas came out of his room because of his room to try and set things right with his wife but then she attempted to kill herself by setting the apartment on fire. His instincts failed him when their son died in a car accident three years ago but this time they kicked in just in time for him to save her. Later Thomas asks Silke why she thinks they still have a chance in their marriage, what has changed? Silke says that she knew when Thomas came for her during the fire to save her life, even before their bodies hit the floor, that he chose to live and he ultimately chose their marriage, after all. Which, unfortunately, could have been her big misunderstanding since he would have left if not for Megumi’s new situation which I will explain in the next paragraph.
During the time that Megumi was falling for Thomas, she finds out that her mother, who abandoned their family to go back to Korea, was actually pregnant when she left and has since returned to Japan to start a new life. They all want her to come back to them there. She ultimately decides to go back for the sake of her little brother, who is also half Japanese and half Korean. Her decision is what decides the outcome of this book, leaving Thomas with Silke, who are now also left to try for a new beginning. Who knows what will happen to them, maybe Thomas would’ve been better off with Megumi, but we will never know.
The dust jacket of this book kind of tricked me into thinking that this was an odd love story where a relationship worked with three people in it. What I should have known is that relationships never work that way- at least not that I’ve ever known.
I don’t know what to think of them. I don’t know if I should pity them or be scared that it could so easily happen to anyone I know.
This book was written beautifully and it read like music. I can say that it was the most “REAL” book I’ve read in a long time. I will be looking forward to his next book.