Asa Nonami’s “Body” is a collection of five short stories, each of which — “Navel,” “Blood,” “Whorl,” “Buttocks” and “Jaw” — is titled after the physical trait with which its main character is obsessed.
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In each macabre tale, Nonami zooms in on a particular superficial fixation of modern society and proceeds to follow a “what if” question down a twisted rabbit hole: What if a middle-aged housewife decides to get plastic surgery to attract her disinterested husband? What if a man’s concern about his thinning hair leads him to try an experimental drug? What if a boy, tired of being bullied, decides to learn boxing?
Nonami’s stories are horrifying less because they are typical examples of the horror genre — the final story, “Jaw,” is the only one to even hint at elements of the supernatural — but more because it is too easy to empathize with the characters’ dissatisfactions with their physical selves.
As if looking at a reflection, each character’s self-conscious thoughts, each of their worries about lines, wrinkles, blemishes and fat is instantly, unnervingly recognizable. You can’t help but want each “what if” scenario to end well, if only to justify the discernible parallels to real life.
Nieda’s English translation is sparse, but the language lends the stories an air of readability, making them feel like cautionary fables for today’s society.
Fans of TV shows like “Black Mirror” will find much to enjoy in this lurid compilation.