cover image The Apprenticeship of Big Toe P

The Apprenticeship of Big Toe P

Rieko Matsuura. Kodansha International (JPN), $24.95 (447pp) ISBN 978-4-7700-3116-7

In an unexplained turn of events, 22-year-old Mano Kazumi wakes from a nap with a penis where her big toe had been, shaking her out of a complacent life and forcing her to reevaluate her views on sexuality, gender, and her identity. The new appendage leads to many novel predicaments, chief among them relationships with a sexually indiscriminate but strangely innocent teenager, and a traveling troupe of sexual misfits. Matsuura uses Mano's naïveté in open-minded, thought-provoking ways, leading her to explore a dizzying array of sexual situations and attitudes-from homosexuality to polyamory to ""quasi-rape,"" misogyny, homosocial bonding, love, etc.-but the deliberate awkwardness of her first-person narration sometimes reads as simply tone-deaf; combined with a loose pace and a general lack of action, the odd sexual romp turns unexpectedly dull. Delving boldly into the kind of magical realism employed regularly by her compatriot Haruki Murakami, Matsuura has a more grounded, Kafka-esque interest in the practical (rather than supernatural or spiritual) implications of her absurd set-up; unfortunately, she fails to imbue her provocative material with a sense of urgency.