Revenge: Eleven Dark Tales by Yoko Ogawa (Picador, Jan. 2013)-When I began reading Afternoon at the Bakery, the first story in Revenge, the new collection by Yoko Ogawa, it didn’t take me long to realize I was in for something special. In Afternoon at the Bakery, a woman celebrates the birthday of her dead son at a local bakery, and then in the next story, Fruit Juice, a melancholy girl invites a boy to go to dinner with her wealthy father, as her mother withers away in the hospital. They soon lose touch and 20 years later, the boy, now a man, calls the girl, who tells him how grateful she was to have him there. She is the same girl working at the bakery in the first story.
In Old Mrs. J, a writer, whose landlady grows carrots that look like human hands, finds out that the landlady is actually a murderer. In Lab Coats, a hospital secretary finds out that a coworker plans to kill the doctor that she’s been having an affair with, and in Sewing For the Heart, a bagmaker is commissioned to make a bag for a woman whose heart beats outside of her chest and whose lovely voice graces a local nightclub. The bagmaker must craft the bag to conform to every artery, every vein while protecting the delicate membrane that surrounds her heart, and it’s clear that by the end of the story, it’s his heart that she’s stolen, and love can drive us to do terrible things. Disturbing and disturbingly intimate, Sewing For the Heart especially stuck with me, as did Welcome To the Museum of Torture, in which a woman, spurned by her boyfriend, visits the titular museum, and gets a few ideas on how to get even.
Each story builds on the last and if you find yourself with questions about a character in a particular story, you’ll most likely find out their fate in the next, and it’s partly these little “a-ha” moments that add depth and intrigue to these stories. The collection resonates with subtle menace, of horror lurking right below the surface of everyday life, and the author’s stark prose serves to highlight the desperation, sorrow, and yes, revenge that lies coiled in the hearts of these characters.