Thursday, December 20, 2012
“Gaijin” by Remittance Girl
I first heard of this book by way of its controversy, and even notoriety long before I was able to find a copy, which is still difficult. The controversy comes from women especially, many of whom were offended by a graphic rape scene. But one woman in particular, a violent rape victim felt healed and even vindicated by this story and sought out the author to tell her so.
Remittance Girl derives her name from a novel by George Orwell called "Burma Days" and Orwell's reference to that black sheep of a family who is often pushed off to the margins to protect the family from social embarrassment. Erotica writers like Remittance Girl, much more influenced by Georges Bataille and Pauline Reage than by formula romance writers are very much off on the side of the literary world, inhabiting that underground independence that despises formula. More known as a short storiest than a novelist, Remittance Girl's works have been scattered through the Internet and anthologies where she has become something of a dark legend.
"Jennifer awoke to a dull throbbing pain in her chest. She opened her eyes to blackness and felt an immediate flare of panic. She wasn't at home, this wasn't her room, her bed. The pain in her breasts, a hot, pulsing, generalized ache was all that distracted her from the strangeness she found herself in. Someone, something had hurt her."
(from "Gaijin” Remittance Girl)
Jennifer is a "gaijin", the old Japanese word for "foreigner". It is a term like "gringo" which can mean either affection or contempt. Either way it means "not one of us". The gaijin in this case is something of a remittance girl herself, a rebellious white American girl who has come to Japan with romantic notions of Kurosawa movies, the Floating World and the elegance of old Asian culture, a way of thinking not that different than immigrants who arrive in America with hopes of striking it rich. She finds herself foundering, sinking into the hard life of a stranger in a strange land. As white American girls are something sexually exotic she has landed a job as a bar girl in a restaurant much patronized by Yakuza gangs. Jennifer is not a prostitute but inhabits that odd space in-between a hooker and a sophisticated geisha whose job it is to push expensive drinks, be witty and entertaining and skillfully flatter the insecure egos of powerful, violent men.
This is a uniquely Japanese skill and Jennifer is not good at it. Gaijin in this case means an American girl who stubbornly dislikes flattering the undeserving and steers clear of serving tables seated with gangster assholes who expect more than their due of her besides handing them their drinks. This leads to an incident of insult-by-indifference towards an especially cruel Yakuza boss named Shindo and after an innocent drink with her frightened co-workers she wakes up bound and painful in a dark room. Her warrior's journey through hell has begun.
Yes, as the controversy goes there is a rape scene, not that Shindo sees it that way. And yes it is cruel. This isn't old school bodice ripping romance novel rape by handsome pirates or the current popular fantasy rape of BDSM novels. This is the real thing, familiar to women in third world civil wars and deserted parking garages late at night. Underlying it is a very strange rape of the soul. When Jennifer bluntly tells Shindo what he has done and defiantly despises him for it his defense is - so why didn't you kill yourself to stop it? This is an alien bushido way of thinking that simply would not occur to a modern American woman. This is what it means in Shindo's world to be "Gaijin".
Jennifer's journey is ultimately one of person-hood. In the beginning she is expected to be an exotic bar girl, a manga book male fantasy of a woman. When she crosses that line and is kidnapped to sexual servitude to a monster she is still regarded as sub human, as a thing, a buffet of erogenous orifices and most of all disposable. As each emotional outrage is committed on her she begins to change and push back, asserting herself against Shindo whose humiliations underlie an expectation that a true woman should defend her honor by suicide. As she journeys from struggling for survival to struggling for person-hood she blossoms from a beaten down immigrant to something of a modern samurai.
I do love this novel. I love it for its audacity. I love it for the genuinely transgressive nature of its eroticism. It has that rare quality of boldly honest humanity on the dark fringes that only a literary black sheep, a remittance girl, can conceive.
Along with Remittance Girl's novel I've been reading some of my writing notebooks. I read a lot of craft books and I have four volumes of hand written notebooks, indexed by subject on the elements of fiction craft. I'm a craft freak. In fact Lisabet has invited me to add a blog to the ERWA site (Erotica Readers and Writers). I wasn't sure at first if I could, what would I write in addition to the Grip? It occurs to me that my ideas about craft are heading in an interesting direction - interesting to me at least - and I've decided to call my brave new blog "Confessions of a Craft Freak" and discuss the elements of fiction craft, a different subject each month. I don't know if anyone will read it, I don't have that many readers anyway, but it will give me a chance at least to think out loud and organize my philosophy of writing craft. I'm looking forward to that.