cover image Earthlings


Sayaka Murata, trans. from the Japanese by Ginny Tapley Takemori. Grove, $25 (256p) ISBN 978-0-8021-5700-3

Murata’s unsettling, madcap 11th novel (after Convenience Store Woman) chronicles the nightmarish discontent of one girl amid the deadening conformity of modern Japanese society. Natsuki does not have it easy: her mom favors her sister, her teacher sexually abuses her, and her only friend is the stuffed hedgehog Piyyut, who tells her he’s an alien from planet Popinpobopia. Natsuki looks forward to her family’s yearly holiday at her grandparents’ house in the mountains of Akishina, where she meets up with her like-minded cousin Yuu. But one year, Natsuki and Yuu are caught dabbling with sex and are not allowed to see one another again. Years pass, and Natsuki marries Tomoya, a man she doesn’t sleep with or love romantically. They both, however, connect over their shared rage against “The Factory,” their name for the society in which they are trapped and are expected to act as “components... that just keep on manufacturing children.” After Tomoya is fired from his job, they flee to Akishina and find that Yuu has also returned. Portents come in the form of winter landslides and the brutal murder of Natsuki’s former teacher by a stalker, and a horrific series of events ensues as Natsuki, Yuu, and Tomoya, believing they are not earthlings but aliens like Piyyut, resort to violence and depravity. The author’s flat, deadpan prose makes the child Natsuki’s narration strangely and instantly believable and later serves to reflect her relationship to Japan’s societal anxiety. This eye-opening, grotesque outing isn’t to be missed. (Oct.)