By Tomihiko Morimi. Released in Japan as “Kitsune no Hanashi” by Shincho Bunko. Released in North America by Yen On. Translated by Winifred Bird.
After getting a couple of books in the previous few years, this is definitely the year of Tomihiko Morimi in North America. The Tatami Galaxy, one of their most famous works, in finally getting a translation into English next month. Tower of the Sun, their debut work, came out in August (though I did not review it as I read the first 20 pages or so and decided that I hated the protagonist so much I wanted to burn the book). And now we have Fox Tales, a short story collection that came out the same year as The Night Is Short, Walk On Girl. But while that book was mostly whimsical fantasy with the occasional bout of melancholy, Fox Tales is straight up here to be scary and unnerving. It’s basically a yokai book, with four stories interconnected by a curio shop and also a mysterious fox/dragon creature that seems to act as a harbinger of bad things. The stories vary in quality, but the book is definitely worth a read.
In the first story, which is also the title story, a young man works part-time at a curio shop run by a middle-aged woman who falls under the dictionary definition of “mysterious”. Unfortunately, in an effort to protect her, the man gets involved with a nasty person who engages in trades, and has a way of making you REALLY want to make the trade. In the second story, our narrator falls in with a man who can’t stop telling stories of his past. The third story has a tutor of a high school boy run afoul of a mystery person who is going around beating people up, possibly due to something the family of his student did years ago. And in the final story, a young man (it’s always a different nameless young man, by the way) goes to his grandfather’s wake and ends up nearly drowning in family obligations and past sins.
One of the stories has a “twist” ending, but the twist is fairly easuy to figure out almost immediately, so I’d argue it’s not really meant to be a mystery. Mostly the stories set a mood, and succeed admirably. They have a lot of Morimi’s quirks, such as characters walking around back alleys, used bookstores, and how people actually feel buried in the things that they don’t quite say. It can also be scary – the first story is almost straight up horror, and the third story ends so abruptly I wondered if there were pages missing – it’s as if once we figure out the “why” there’s no reason to type any more. The final story was probably my favorite, digging deep into family history, the oppressiveness of funerals, and (as with all of these stories) the supernatural. The only story that didn’t work for me was the second one, which went for “melancholy” rather than “eerie” and didn’t seem to fit.
If you enjoy Morimi, this is a must buy. It’s also a good addition if you like spooky stuff.