cover image Dream Messenger

Dream Messenger

Masahiko Shimada. Kodansha International (JPN), $22 (293pp) ISBN 978-4-7700-1535-8

In this trying-too-hard-to-be-hip contemporary novel of fantasy, kinky sex, and emotional insecurity, young Japanese writer Shimada explores the fate of ``rental children,'' who grow up willing to do anything--for a price. (Renting substitute children is a concept popular in Japan, where harried parents have taken to sending substitute offspring to perform social services, . visit their grandparents, etc.) Protagonist Masao Fudo is taken in at age five by would-be social engineer Yusaku Katagiri, who ``rents out'' the adopted kids of his Manhattan Orphan Republic by the day, the week or longer to lonely grown-ups who can pay for their companionship. As an adult, Masao (who anglicizes his name to Matthew) hightails it to Tokyo along with his guardian spirit, Mikainaito; unfortunately, the supernatural buddy cannot rescue Masao/Matthew from the revolving-door tawdriness of life as a ``professional'' friend, gigolo and toady, mostly in artsy, publishing and rock music circles. Masao's natural mother, Mika (now a rich widow) hires beauty contest winner Maiko (now a financial analyst) to locate her son--in essence, to buy him back in his adulthood, since she missed out on his youth. The improbabilities multiply in this choppy narrative melange of unsympathetic characters (too many of whom have similar-sounding M names), bad poetry, wooden dialogue, and imitation profundity, exemplified in such empty images as ``a worried-looking dog eating pizza'' (which rates a chapter title). Matthew claims that at age 18 he ``awakened to the true value of being a dream messenger--the use of dreams to communicate with others.'' The best advice for Shimada is to keep dreaming, because no such communication occurs with the reader in this, his first novel to be published in English in the West. (Jan.)