Otsuichi’s Summer Fireworks

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There are several editions of these stories. I saw on Amazon more recent editions split the “Summer, Fireworks, and My Corpse” and “Black Fairy Tale” stories into two separate books. The edition I read had both and a third story, “Yuna,” collected in a single volume. “Yuna” splits the book into the “Summer” side and the “Fairy Tale” side. It is the most forgettable story given its length (shortest) and plot. It lacks the sinister intentions that the first and last stories have.

Otsuichi has become one of my favorite writers in translation. I call every writer with a direct, somewhat Spartan storytelling style Kafkaesque. Otsuichi is Kafkaesque because he spends little time creating moods and settings. Instead he chronicles his story’s progress in a clear and sensible way much like the ghost narrator of the first story in the book.

In “Summer, Fireworks, and My Corpse,” Satsuki is not outraged that her best friend has killed her and is now conspiring to cover up the crime. She’s not upset that her best friend killed her for admitting to “liking” her best friend’s brother. Moments before her best friend confessed to having incestuous thoughts about her own brother and wishes her brother wasn’t her brother so it would be OK for them to be together. Satsuki is not even angry when she sees her mother cry because she is missing. Satsuki has not been pronounced dead yet. Everyone assumes she has been taken by a serial child kidnapper that has been plaguing the area.

Satsuki is not a vengeful ghost. She readily accepts her new situation and it seems her curiosity is her strongest emotion as she follows her best friend and her best friend’s brother as they attempt to dispose of her body. I don’t think she mentions wanting to speak or interact with her killers or anyone else. She might have wanted to console her mother but nothing else. Her tone can be construed as melancholy but never angry or anguished at the injustice done to her. It seems her biggest concern is learning what happens to her physical body.

I feel bad for the second story. It had the potential to be a really haunting story about a horrible secret that an elderly couple keeps but seems to race to its conclusion before anything satisfying can be fully realized. It had all the desired ingredients though: a reclusive author, a forbidden room, and dolls. It brought to mind the supernatural-themed movies The Skeleton Key and The Boy.

The last story was my favorite. It was also the one that took the most narrative risks. “Black Fairy Tale” is told through multiple first-person perspectives and even includes a story-within-a-story. “Black Fairy Tale” is the name given to a book in the story. The author in the book frequents the café that the characters gather in. The premise of the story reminded me of the Hong Kong horror film, The Eye where a woman receives an eye transplant and begins seeing “visions” of what its former owner saw. I never saw the American version of the movie but when I was Googling it I saw it wasn’t very well received.

Like all of Otsuichi’s stories in this collection there is a twist ending. Maybe because “Black Fairy Tale” is the longest story in the book, where Otsuichi took his time to convincingly provide us with enough clues, its twist ending is the most appetizing and plausible. Both “Summer” and “Yuna” suffer from twist endings that seemed more a result of Otsuichi getting tired of writing or bored and just wanting to stop. The twists simply appear without any build up.

If you were to buy “Summer, Fireworks, and My Corpse” make sure you choose the version with all three stories. If not, I suggest buying “Black Fairy Tale” instead.