Book Review Revue
Either by design or by accident, most English translations of Japanese novelists tend to be books that don't discuss sex.
Reviewers who have explored this believe that it is because Japanese masochism can at times seem harsh compared to good old-fashioned American exploitation. The conventional wisdom is that a general audience could be repulsed.
And there's much to find repulsive in Lala Pipo, the latest offering from New York publisher Vertical Press, which has long done fine, mostly thankless work reprinting the offerings of Japanese authors and comics artists, including zippy translations of horror novels and authoritative compilations of the manga of Osamu Tezuka. Lala Pipo (the name comes from an unskilled verbal translation of the English "lot of people") is possibly the most successful and literary translation that Vertical has published to date, but, again, there's a lot repellant within.
This is a novel in six parts, telling the story of six people who are linked in distant ways. None of them are good people, and they're all hung up on their own weird sexual appetites. A man readjusts his entire life so that he can more easily masturbate to his upstairs neighbor's enthusiastic sexual encounters. An older housewife with a disgusting secret buried in the mounds of rotting garbage that fill her house is lured into a lucrative career starring in pornographic films. A stuffy writer can't stop having sex with underage prostitutes.
Lala's worldview is dark, to say the least, and the wry humor and masochism is not for the weak of heart, but as a portrait of sexual despair and loneliness, Okuda has crafted a novel that feels groundbreaking. It successfully does the work begun by ambitious but ultimately failed darkly erotic American novels like Nicholson Baker's The Fermata and Mary Gaitskill's Two Girls, Fat and Thin, perhaps because of Okuda's resistance to sentimentality.
These human monsters, it turns out, could be as American as you or I, and their secret lives look distressingly familiar. Okuda successfully taps into the creep inside us all.