Now You’re One of Us
Asa Nonami

Vertical, Inc.
Trade Paperback, $14.95
Reviewed by Sheila Merritt

The mysteries of the Far East become even more mysterious in the novel Now You’re One of Us. Set in Japan, and originally written in Japanese, it loses little in translation. The language of horror is universal.

The book begins with the classic gothic set-up. A young woman, Noriko, marries and moves with her new husband into the family abode. The problem is, his multi-generational family lives there, as well. Noriko becomes the ninth person in the household, which warmly welcomes her into the fold. Of course, as time passes, the new bride begins to have misgivings about her freshly acquired family: “Their restless glances bore no relation to the words they were exchanging, creating an eerie, at times almost vicious atmosphere. People who don’t need words. A close-knit family.”

Ihis insular environment wreaks havoc on the protagonist’s emotions, as she veers from extreme doubt to longing for familial acceptance. She wonders about the various plants in the verdant garden, and finds it strange that there were no relatives outside of the groom’s household at his wedding to her. Then there’s the nagging question about a propane explosion that kills four people, one of whom seemed to have been a nuisance to Noriko’s in-laws.

At times lulled by the attractiveness of the family and at other times repulsed by it, Noriko feels like an outsider. This only contributes to what could be interpreted as paranoia. There are head games played; manipulations galore, as well as pervasive uneasiness: “The hallway felt good beneath her bare feet. The cool, dry floor seemed to be her only direct contact with reality in that house.”

Writer Asa Nonami won the first annual Japan Mystery Suspense Award for debut talent in 1988, and the Naoki Prize for excellence in popular fiction in 1996. Now You’re One of Us was originally published in Japan in 1993. A different country, a different culture, and characters who create something far more fishy than sushi, make for a very unusual reading experience. Jolting and disturbing, this is a powerful work; it’s an unconventional tale despite the conventional gothic trappings. Recommended to those who like “J Horror” movies and readers who don’t shock easily.

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