Can't remember when I read about 'The Diving Pool' (2008) by Yoko Ogawa on Sharlene's blog, but I only bought the book recently. Three novellas set in Tokyo, Japan, translated by Stephen Snyder. (Reviews here, here and here.)
The narration is evenly paced, giving it the chilling quality of suburban horror in the unspoken. Physical details of the weather, environment and buildings are lovingly provided. The characters seem distant and disconnected, portraying the supposed politeness of Japanese society, even from their nearest and dearest. The women in the stories are the protagonists, the ones with issues and hang-ups. Such a fascinating read.
The eponymous title story sets the pace. The story sees Aya, the daughter of a pastor and orphanage director and his wife, crushing on Jun, a fellow resident at the orphanage Light House. Jun loves diving and practices his dives at the pool. Aya is resentful of growing up alongside the orphans, and is bitter. She somehow exhibits a pure evil streak in her abuse of an eighteen-month-old baby Rie, delighting in her fearful crying, even to the extent of feeding her expired four-day-old cream puff, causing her to end up in hospital for severe food poisoning.
"I've known what you were doing to her for a while now." His eyes were fixed on the bottom of the pool. "Rie's had a hard time," he said, his voice low and even. "Her mother was mentally retarded, and she had Rie in a restroom."
If he had attacked me outright, I might have been able to defend myself. Instead, he exposed my secret as if offering himself to me. I was left mute, listening to my heart pounding in my chest.
I wanted him to stop talking. Anything he said would only make me sadder. Rie's sharp cries echoed in my ears, cutting Jun's shining muscles all to shreds. The world was spinning in front of me, as if I were falling head over heels into the empty diving well.
The second story 'Pregnancy Diary' sees a woman documenting her pregnant sister's journey in her own diary. It was published in 1991, and printed in The New Yorker in 2005. The factual jotting down of the pregnancy progress became full of oddly repressed feelings, especially as her questioning of whether it's a congratulatory matter for the baby to be born to her sister and brother-in-law. Then there's the making of grapefruit jam, something that her sister actually liked and ate tubs of. It all sounds perfectly fine, till later on we realize that she insidiously continues to buy imported American grapefruits because she heard the anti-fungal sprays, pesticides and its carcinogens affected chromosomes of fetuses. We won't know if the baby is indeed affected, or if it's something she fervently hopes for. But it's obvious that she's the evil sister/aunt. Ugh.
I stood, concentrating on the baby's cry as it swept over me in waves, until at last I could see the corridor leading away into the darkness. I set off toward the nursery to meet my sister's ruined child.
The third and final story 'Dormitory' tells the mundane story of a young housewife's college-bound younger male cousin request for her help in securing accommodation at her old dormitory in Tokyo. She did so, and is happy to have something to do. We're introduced to the Manager of the Dormitory, a triple amputee who is now older and ill. The dormitory has also lost business because of a scandal- a missing boy who has never been found. She visits a few times after, but never getting to see her cousin who is always elsewhere at school camps. She gets the information from said Manager, never actually hearing from the cousin. We'll never know if the Manager killed them. But at the same time, she ends up nursing the ill Manager who deteriorates day by day and becomes bedridden. The ending is surreal. I'm not even sure she actually saw bees, honeycombs and a giant beehive. Or blood and corpses.