Hikikomori and the Rental Sister
Author: Jeff Backhaus
Hardcover: 256 pages
Publisher: Algonquin Books (January 8, 2013)
Thomas Tessler, devastated by a tragedy, has cloistered himself in his bedroom and shut out the world for the past three years. His wife, Silke, lives in the next room, but Thomas no longer shares his life with her, leaving his hideout only occasionally, in the wee hours of the night, to pick up food at the grocery store around the corner from their Manhattan apartment. Isolated, withdrawn, damaged, Thomas is hikikomori.
Desperate for one last chance to salvage their life together, Silke hires Megumi, a young Japanese woman attuned to the hikikomori phenomenon, to lure Thomas back into the world. Back in Japan Megumi is called a “rental sister,” though her job may involve much more than familial comforts. At first Thomas remains steadfast and sequestered, but as he grows to trust Megumi, a deepening and sensual relationship unfolds.
A beautiful story of three damaged people. Thomas and his wife lost their son 3 years ago in an accident of distraction...he walked off their sidewalk and in front of a car. Thomas has blamed himself for negligence ever since. His wife does not blame him but has been able to break through the wall he's built for himself. Meanwhile Megumi is trying to make up for what she sees as her failure to save her brother from his Hikkomori state. He killed himself in the end and on that day she fled Japan.
3 years later we have Megumi hired by Thomas's wife to somehow get him out of his room and back into life....no matter what it takes. Megumi accepts the challenge thinking if she couldn't save her brother, perhaps she can save Thomas.
I found this to be a very interesting book with Thomas and Megumi brightly lit characters, in center stage, while the other characters remained fuzzy shadows surrounding them. Given the story, there really wasn't room for the others regardless so that's not a negative.
A deep bond forms quickly around these two central characters but it leads to two questions........will the bond be strong enough to help Thomas escape his life and will it become so strong it becomes a passion that breaks through into their "real" lives.
I recommend this book.
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