There is a scene at the end of the first story in Yoko Ogawa’s upcoming collection Revenge: Eleven Dark Tales that feels indicative of all the other stories within, in atmosphere and structure: in “Afternoon at the Bakery,” people have gathered in a quaint, clean town square on a beautiful Sunday afternoon, taking in the sunlight and the sounds of children playing and laughing, and other sweet details. The narrator herself calls it a “perfect picture” at the beginning of the story. By the end, though, the clock tower in the square strikes five and the gathered crowd witnesses this:
a door beneath the clock opened and a little parade of animated figures pirouetted out — a few soldiers, a chicken, and a skeleton.
A miniature Danse Macabre, seemingly out of place in this picturesque scene, and yet appropriate for Revenge. As it turns out, almost all of the characters in these stories are haunted by dark thoughts and details that spring to mind with surprisingly fluidity: death, obsession, loss, and yes, revenge.
Ogawa has written an impressive testament to the desires and obsessions of human hearts and minds with this collection. The stories within are linked by chains of event that string the stories together from beginning to end: acts of vengeance that inspire other characters to consider the same, incongruous and foreboding details that beget obsession over them, thwarted needs that cause some to commit acts they may have been capable of all along. These stories are dark and macabre, very much so, but the darkness comes from the psychology of the characters, remarkably thorough and yet knotty, and the surprising intrusion of dark and possibly even supernatural details and moments. The accumulation of these dark details and the causality of these acts gains momentum throughout the stories, and knowledge of prior events and characters sheds new light on later stories, even leading readers to debate within themselves the “reality” of what they had read before in some instances. On note of the writing, much appreciation is due the translator of Revenge, Stephen Snyder, for rendering Ogawa’s writing into English so smoothly and vividly.
The stories of these characters are so absorbing and creepily persuasive in their own way that readers shouldn’t be surprised if they find themselves unconsciously acting out their behaviors in their own lives, obsessing over the Danse Macabre that sprouts up from seemingly inappropriate places and concocting dark fantasies of their own starring the people from their real lives. That may actually be the most unsettling aspect of this collection, however. As strange and upsetting as the actions depicted wherein may be, they’re not as foreign to our minds and imaginations as we’d like to think.
Readers can look forward to reading Revenge when it is released next week, on January 29. We’re delighted to feature a story from Revenge on Weirdfictionreview.com this week, “The Last Hour of the Bengal Tiger.” By itself, it’s a noteworthy story, but, as I said before, it gains additional strength from being read in the context of its dark-minded brothers and sisters. Ogawa herself is no stranger to writing dark and unsettling fiction, having previously won the Shirley Jackson Award in 2008 for her collection of novellas, The Diving Pool. Fans of that collection, and of this foreboding kind of fiction, will find a similar joy – or something like that – in Revenge.