cover image The Fox and Dr. Shimamura

The Fox and Dr. Shimamura

Christine Wunnicke, trans. from the German by Philip Boehm. New Directions, $15.95 trade paper (160p) ISBN 978-0-8112-2624-0

Wunnicke (Missouri) spoofs the misogynist history of psychology in this clever and rewarding novel of slippery memories tinged with Japanese myths. In the novel’s frame, retired Japanese neurologist Shun’ichi Shimamura is ailing from consumption, watched over by his mother, his wife, her mother, and a maid, who was either a nurse or a former patient. As a new doctor in 1891, Shimamura traveled the countryside in search of women afflicted by a folkloric fox possession. After many false reports, a genuine case shakes Shimamura and becomes even stranger when his annoyingly eager young traveling companion goes missing, and the fox transfers into Shimamura’s body. Hiding his constant fevers and mysteriously sudden allure to women, Shimamura travels to Europe on an imperial government stipend to study neurological disorders. He first goes to France where language barriers frustrate him, and then to Germany, acting as both research assistant and unwitting subject of study, as a male neurotic, for famous pioneers of psychology, including Jean-Martin Charcot and Josef Breuer. In his later years, Shimamura’s own hazy recollections and the interference of his household make for a complicated puzzle about the reliability of the narration. This gracefully amusing blend of history and imagination will beguile readers keen on questionable narrators and magical realism. (Apr.)