I finished reading Netsuke by Rikki Ducornet (Coffee House Press, 2011) some time ago. When I closed it, I began to dread writing the review. However, the more time that passed between that book—living so close to a power- and sex-crazed psychoanalyst—and sitting down to write this review, the more I began to appreciate the book. The best part about pressure is the release, and as the days float by, free from the oppressive eroticism and self-destructive megalomania of that character, I feel lighter, better, and (surprisingly) more normal than ever. I realize now that I feel a shame and awkwardness at having been in the room, watching those characters as so many sad things happened.
The premise of the book isn’t outlandish: a psychoanalyst who craves power and adoration, but who at the same time is full of a violent self-loathing, uses his position as a doctor to betray the trust of many who enter his sacred chambers. This is the sort of thing that happens in the world—not just the version of the world that exists in this piece of fiction, but in the real world. To experience these things not from the perspective of the victims, but rather like some voyeuristic ghost, floating right behind the narrator, is a chilling experience. However, that feeling is also thrilling, in a way.
Although I wasn’t particularly fond of any of the characters in the book (there aren’t many heroes here), Rikki Ducornet’s writing is beautifully disturbed, off-putting and brilliant. Though sometimes overly artsy, often Ducornet’s prose is filled with the kind of truth that only the crazy can admit: “I think that I am like that Eskimo. I live in a wasteland and yet I survive because I own a knife of shit.”
Rikki Ducornet uses the loathsome character as a vehicle to explore interesting points about the intersection between humanity and animal instinct. After all, were we not savage before we were civilized? “A child is born speaking the languages of birds,” the character says, but then identifies with his Studebaker. He is a doctor of the mind, but a practitioner of erotic, extramarital, secretive and savage physical pleasures. Regardless of his intrinsic flaws as a husband and doctor, he is an interesting character to know, and apart from the sadness I feel for those involved with him, and the guilt of having witnessed so much melodrama as his passenger, I’m glad I wasn’t there in body—that I was able to return to my world with (at the very least) some beautiful and mysterious quotes. Chief among them: “A body opens like a flower, like a wound beneath the assassin’s knife, a street hit by a grenade.”