hikikomori and the rental sister

“I did not come inside one day, shut the door, and decide never to come out. I needed a day to grieve. Then a week. A month. Tired, I took a nap. When I woke it was dark. The walls were high. There was no way out.” Hikikomori and the Rental Sister.

image by maddercarmine via flickr
image by maddercarmine via flickr


There is a certain time of day that tumbles me into an inexplicable, albeit brief, melancholy. It is preceded by moments of such pleasure that its contrast is felt all the more acutely: the winter sun pours through the window, warming the leather of the couch where I sit. I flatten my palms and press them to it to absorb its warmth, positioning myself so that the sun bathes me, fills me. And then, without warning, it is gone, and the room becomes dim and grey and I panic a bit, rushing about turning on this light and that, each covered with warm yellow shades to simulate the sun’s glow. Once the lights are on, the moment past, evening begins and all is well. In an effort to fool self and nature, I often turn the lights on now when the sun is still bright.

At sunset on my favorite beach the sun burns golden, almost blindingly so, and I shade my eyes and stare at it boldly as it slides from my grasp. It sets in an instant, and in the next all gather their things and are gone, leaving the beach muted and still. Again, that melancholy, which dissipates as soon as I reach the street, now alight with colors and the busyness of venders and the beach-goers who pause to check their wares. The air is electric and full of possibility and promise (not unlike the opposite of dusk, the intimacy of dawn). I feel revived, and alive.

We are all alone, it seems, at dawn and dusk.

hikikomori There are some books which envelop me, which pull me in and tether me to the rooms, to the characters, to the stories within them. And like the glorious sun before dusk, I lose myself in them, full of focus and curiosity, open to whatever they bring and surprised by what I find there.

Hikikomori and the Rental Sister, by Jeff Backhaus, is like no book I have ever read, as seemingly simple as an origami bird, lovely and crisp, yet singing with complex folds and stories hidden within. When I reached the last page I felt that same momentary loss that I do when the sun sets, not wanting it to come to an end.

I won’t tell you its story, and if you trust me (please do), I would suggest that you not read anything about it, nary a review nor even the book jacket. Don’t read about the hikikomori, or the analyses of the story’s plot and its meanings.

Find them yourself. Discover them through the lingering echoes of a singing cardinal, a book of scars, the spider webs in Yoyogi Park, the creak of bamboo at an upstate onsen and the scream of sirens down a New York street. Find them in the flaws and strengths, the sadness and the hope, the words spoken and not, of Thomas, of Silke, of Megumi. This is a story so odd and yet so ineffably human. What a great, great read.


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