If Sayaka Murata’s English debut “Convenience Store Woman” thoughtfully chiseled at societal constructs such as marriage and career success, her newest work in English, “Earthlings,” wields the same themes like bludgeons. Readers will scramble to the last page gasping in shock, emotionally battered but triumphant. This book leaves scars, tearing through poisonous families, sexual assault, violent deaths, revenge and oppression — but it’s well worth the pain.
The novel is narrated by Natsuki, a creative and observant 11-year-old who feels isolated within her dysfunctional family. She finds solace in her imagination and a stuffed toy hedgehog she names Piyyut. As a way to escape her reality, Natsuki pretends to receive magical powers from Piyyut, whom she believes is an alien. She also finds comfort in her soulmate and cousin, Yuu, an equally lonely child struggling with his single mother’s mental instability. The two promise each other to “survive, no matter what,” and count down the days until their annual summer reunions when the extended family gathers at Granny’s house in the Nagano mountains.