Noel R. is a professional editor and writer, and a full-stack developer in training. She reviews both science fiction and horror books and movies, with a particular interest in Japanese fiction. Feel free to get in touch via Twitter at @classicanoel to chat about reading, writing, editing, art, development, or just to share photos of cats.
A housewife who discovers the pleasures of plastic surgery. A timid salaryman obsessed with women’s soft knees. A guy in his twenties contending with thinning hair. A girl shipped off to an elite high school in Tokyo. A boy who constantly finds himself the target of older men’s fists. The characters featured in Asa Nonami’s short stories have one thing in common—a fixation with an aspect of the body that leads them down a rabbit hole of warped self-perception. These modern fables show what happens when people let superficial preoccupations take over their lives.
Title: Bødy | Author: Asa Nonami | Publisher: Vertical | Publication Date: 2012-Dec-18 | ISBN-13: 978-1-934287-37-8 | Pages: 192 | Language: English (translated from Japanese by Takami Nieda) | Genre: Psychological/Body horror | Source: Self-purchased | Starred Review
If you’re looking for horror that revolves around monsters or killers or life-and-death situations, Bødy won’t fit the bill. What makes this collection of short stories horrific is not something external seeking to harm the characters, but rather the insidious need to follow an obsession to the point of self-destruction.
Asa Nonami dives deep into the minds of her characters, revealing their perceived imperfections and self-doubts in ways that are all too recognizable. A woman worried about her age thinks plastic surgery will make her husband notice her, a young girl bullied into believing her butt is too big turns to bulimia for weight loss, a man worried that his hair loss will make him less attractive seeks treatment, and a young man desires to get stronger so bigger people can’t hurt him anymore. These are all stories we’ve heard time and again, fears and feelings that we know have been lived, making them all imminently believable. After all, who doesn’t have at least one thing they dislike about themselves that they’d seek to improve? What makes these tales terrible are the extremes to which the characters go to fix their “problems.” Extremes that make them unrecognizable, in the end.
The second story in the collection, “Blood,” is horrific for different reasons. In this tale, the main character has fetishized women’s knees to the point of needing to surreptitiously touch them on crowded commuter trains. This compulsion goes deeper and ultimately finds more dangerous outlets. The assaults themselves are more anecdotal than described, but the way the man’s mind weaves around the topic, giving himself reasons and excuses for why the behavior shouldn’t be vilified, is disturbing. As a woman, it’s easy to imagine myself in a position like that of his victims, which makes it even more unsettling.
Nonami, whose other works in English translation include The Hunter and Now You’re One of Us, writes directly and efficiently in a way that belies the mental disturbance of her characters. Additionally, each story takes place against some form of common social interaction, whether with family, schoolmates, lovers, or coworkers. Combined with the understandable and all too human fascination with self-faults, the stories seem initially mundane, yet it’s the very ordinary nature of the day-to-day that will later leave you gaping at the page, unsure of how events have suddenly taken such a sharp turn.
If you’re not into inward-facing, slow-moving stories, Bødy might not be for you, but if you do enjoy internal and body horror, not to mention Japanese fiction in general, then investigating this spiral of negative self-image is well worth the hour or two spent on each story.
You can find this book at many retailers via clicking on the appropriate link on Goodreads; however, in the spirit of supporting literacy programs, we would like to point out that you may be able to purchase this book through BetterWorldBooks.
Lilyn G is the founder of Sci-Fi & Scary, and leader of the Kali Krew. She does book and film reviews for both genres the site focuses on. Her tastes run towards creature features, hard science fiction, and lots and lots of action. She also has a soft spot for middle-grade fiction that rears its head frequently.
Though no longer involved with Ladies of Horror Fiction due to other responsibilities and a too-full plate, she was one of the original 4 co-founders.
Feel free to chat her up on Twitter as long as you aren’t hitting her up to review your book.