Snakes and Earrings
The blurb gushes that wild-child literary sensation Hitomi Kanehara’s first novella is a Japanese Trainspotting, but that’s not really accurate. Maybe the publicist responsible was grasping for any other author working the territory of deviant sex, chemical abuse, and melancholy as a metaphor for the human condition (uh, Miller? De Sade? Bukowski?), but comparing Snakes and Earrings’ delicate despair to Trainspotting’s soccer-hooligan debauchery is like expecting a rabbit to inhabit a hyena skin. It’ll never happen, and it disrespects the rabbit’s own considerable charm.
Like other works of Japanese art, Snakes’ passage of time is paralleled by the progress of a natural phenomenon. But instead of cherry blossoms blooming or swallows coming home to roost, we watch the hole punched through Lui’s tongue slowly gape under the strain of bigger and bigger gauge studs. She’s got to stretch the hole wide if she wants a forked tongue, just like the one her pathetic punk slacker boyfriend, Ama, has. She’s not sure why she’s doing this, especially since she’s only lukewarm about Ama, his sloppy, needy ways, and his inability to pull out in time to come on her stomach instead of her pubic hair. Lui’s more entranced by Shiba-san, the cold-blooded body modifier who first popped her piercing cherry. There’s something about the way he remarks to her, “Looking at your face gets the sadist in me all revved up,” that sounds like an invitation. When she returns alone to his shop to get a tattoo of a kirin (a mythical creature so refined it won’t step on growing plants or eat raw food) across her unmarred back, her desire for pain finds fertile ground in Shiba-san’s desire to harm. Ama said he’d kill her if she cheated on him. Shiba-san will probably kill her eventually. Maybe it’s nothing that can’t wait until after another beer.
Snakes and Earrings contains blunt language and violent sex, but only the most naive will be shocked. Seekers of Less Than Zero- or Story of O-style jollies had best go elsewhere. Snakes’ spirit is more melancholy than decadent, spinning a bittersweet nimbus of existential hopelessness around Kanehara’s clear and unadorned language. The novel’s only flaw is how ephemeral its pleasures prove. Turning the pages and watching the story unfold is very satisfying, but instead of rolling stickily around the mind upon completion, its delights and revelations quickly evaporate into nothingness.