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‘Pull Me Under’: Whirlpools of confusion and psychosis in Tokushima

by

Special To The Japan Times

Chizuru Akitani, daughter of violinist Hiro Akitani, a National Living Treasure, and American Elena, who committed suicide by jumping from the Naruto Bridge, has apparently inherited her mother’s depression. With her mother gone and her father remote, 12-year-old Chizuru has little defense against the “black organ” — “a dark presence in (her)chest” — or the class bully, Tomoya Yu, whom she fatally stabs during a psychotic episode.

Pull Me Under, by Kelly Luce
272 pages
Farrar, Straus and Giroux, Fiction.

Chizuru is sent to a juvenile recovery center. When she’s released eight years later, without ever having had a visitor, she decides to renounce her Japanese citizenship and start life anew in America. She changes her name to Rio, after her mother’s favorite Duran Duran song, becomes a nurse and marries a kind man who knows nothing of her past. When she learns of her father’s death, she decides to make a solo trip back to Tokushima Prefecture for the memorial service and to confront her demons.

Luce, who taught English in Japan, makes excellent use of Tokushima’s unique attractions, including the Naruto whirlpools, the 88 Temple Pilgrimage and the summer Awa Odori festival. She has a keen eye for detail: a character sidesteps a pile of rotting persimmons, an empty squid-flavored potato-chip bag floats in the air. She is also clearly familiar with Japanese cultural norms, such as the extreme need for decorum.

“Pull Me Under,” which follows Luce’s award-winning short-story collection, is psychologically complex; it inspires horror, sympathy and even, at times, humor. Amid all the gray, however, one thing is certain: Luce is worth watching.