Netsuke by Rikki Ducornet (Coffee House Press, 2011, 127pp.)
“This is what I learned: I was not intended for delight. Delight was made to elude me.”
Reminiscent of Nabokov’s Despair, Netsuke is a tale of one man’s unhappiness spurred by mental illness and a lifetime of alienation. The novel is divided into two parts. In Part 1, we are introduced to the unnamed narrator, a self-destructive psychoanalyst who keeps the reader at a distance while he dispassionately seduces his patients. He strives to keep each affair hidden, not only from his wife, Akiko, but also each of his lover-patients. This rather unhealthy behavior forms an analogy that explains the title of the piece. Netsuke are miniature sculptures made of various materials which one might display in a multi-compartment display shelf. It’s this analogy that ultimately describes how the narrator compartmentalizes each relationship, keeping each unaware of the others, just like a single netsuke is surrounded by similar pieces in a multi-compartment display shelf. Only as we progress into the story do we discover the narrator’s deep sense of unhappiness in life, a feeling which stems from a loveless childhood that drives him to seek sexual fulfillment from strangers. A curious tale, worth at least a single read for those interested in psychological fiction.
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