From the first sentence of Mieko Kanai’s “Mild Vertigo,” you’re already in a whirling state of imbalance, thanks to Kanai’s distinctive style and Polly Barton’s mesmerizing translation. The first sentence stretches out across pages — four to be exact — and you’re pulled into the mind of Natsumi, a Tokyo housewife and mother who never feels inclined to name her two young children. It’s a spiraling read of the everyday in all its idiosyncratic, tragicomic edges.

Mild Vertigo, by Mieko Kanai,Translated by Polly Barton.179 pagesNEW DIRECTIONS, Fiction.

Natsumi and her family live in an upper-middle-class apartment complex, a microcosm of 1990’s Japanese life that somehow feels universal: petty jealousy and floor plans, adultery and cat-haters, the Kobe earthquake and housewife prostitution rings, memory and imaginings, metafiction at its sly best with the author as a character and influencer on Natsumi’s ever-unfolding perceptions as a consummate observer of life. Not much happens yet everything feels meaningful by the end of the novel. It’s simultaneously disorienting and magical, a dense work of art that takes work to read.