It is hard to make ennui engaging, and “The End of the Moment We Had,” a collection of short stories by Toshiki Okada, isn’t quite up to the task. The book comes with praise from Kenzaburo Oe, who says that it gives him hope for the future of Japanese literature. Too bad that sentiment is not reflected in Okada’s characters as they stumble through nameless malaise.

The End of the Moment We Had, by Toshiki Okada, Translated by Samuel Malissa.
128 pages

In the titular story, a young man and woman meet at a club on the eve of the Iraq War. Unable to say or feel anything about the event, they decamp to a love hotel, spending the next four days in a haze of anonymous sex. As they are “cutting the chord of time” in a room without clocks, they escape from the world into a Shibuya that feels like a foreign country.

In the second story, “My Place in Plural,” a malcontent wife spends a workday in bed, musing about the vinyl flooring, a female blogger named “armyofme” and her own tense relationship with her husband.

Okada’s prose flows nicely as a stream of consciousness, touched with an urban poetry, and there are scenes where the cluelessness hits home. When, in between rounds, the lovers go out for food and see a billboard news ticker announcing the bombing of Baghdad, the world intrudes and their sheepish reaction — the guilty remove of the peaceful first world — feels real.

But while Okada excels at describing the great indifference that marks some Japanese youth, he offers little in terms of redemption. No yearning hurts the blase, no stakes make the emptiness poignant.

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