木曜日, 7月 01, 2004

Keritai Senaka

    Yesterday I finished reading Wataya Risa's second novel, "Keritai Senaka." Although I didn't enjoy it as much as "Install," it definitely had its moments. The focus of the novel is the protagonist's ambiguous relationship with a nerdy classmate named Ninagawa. At times she wants to kick him, hence the title ("A Back I Want to Kick"), but one senses that her derisive and mildly sadistic attitude masks more affectionate feelings. Ninagawa is a socially awkward boy who happens to be obsessed with a model/pop star named Ori-chan (short for Olivia; she has one non-Japanese parent and speaks English, how glamorous!) Ori-chan is an annoying airhead, but Ninagawa has painstakingly collected all of her memorabilia and fashion magazines containing her photographs in a box in his room. Hatsu, the main character, is both attracted and repulsed by this kind of geeky fandom. She has decided that most of the kids at her school aren't worth talking to. Because Ninagawa is different from the norm and so is she, she starts to become increasingly involved in his world. Also, a major subplot of the novel is Hatsu's estrangement from her former best friend, Kinuyo. Kinuyo represents the kind of uncomplicated friendship she had with other girls in junior high. Now that she is in high school, she is of an age to be more interested in the opposite sex, and Ninagawa becomes the unlikely target of her interest.
    One amusing touch is that the author consistently writes the "Nina" of "Ninagawa" in hiragana, when it should be kanji. At one point Hatsu actually sees the kanji for his name on the gate of his house, but she professes ignorance of it, saying that it is some weird snaily thingy she couldn't be expected to read. I don't think the character for "Nina" is really much more obscure than some other kanji the author uses, but to show Hatsu's disgusted attitude with the difficult parts of Ninagawa's personality, it is a funny stylistic device. It is also consitent with a certain lazy disregard Hatsu has for the expected or polite way of doing things. It's refreshing to read about a character like Hatsu, who is quite rude and outrageous at times, overturning all of the accepted rules of social etiquette. She is late for appointments, skips club meetings, kicks people, takes peaches out of her refrigerator for a sick-visit present instead of buying something special, and even tells one of her classmates "Shut up, spitface" as a pun on that classmates name (Tsujimoto/tsubamoto). This behavior is subtle enough you don't notice it all at once, but at times I was impressed with her nerve.
    The weak parts of the plot for me were as follows: 1) Hatsu's club meetings. She is on the track and field team at school, and there are a couple of boring segments about that which have little to do with the main plotlines. I think thematically it may be related, in that the track team kids tease the coach and try to manipulate her, but really they are fond of her; this could be a parallel to Hatsu's treatment of Ninagawa. It's kind of a stretch though.
   2) The fact that Kinuyo and her new friends gave Hatsu so many second chances. This seemed unrealistic to me. Hatsu told Kinuyo she didn't want to hang out with her and her new group. She rejected Kinuyo and the old friendship they had. Most people would feel betrayed and never speak to Hatsu again, right? Especially in HIGH SCHOOL. Maybe this is a cultural difference, but it seemed to me that Kinuyo remained too damn nice after Hatsu rejected her and made fun of her friends. This is supposed to be the cutthroat social world of high school, where you have to be cool or be teased or beat up, right? But Hastu slides by courting uncoolness with no major repercussions.
    In summary, I think this was an amusing portrayal of high school relations between the sexes. It touches on the emotional tension that exists when you like someone but still somehow want to see them suffer--perhaps so that they will own up to reality and stop chasing impossible dreams. I didn't understand the cause of this emotional ambivalence any better after reading the book, but Wataya's characters again succeed in achieving a raw poignancy that is very human.