Thursday, November 19, 2009

'Big in Japan: A Ghost Story'

by M. Thomas Gammarino
Fiction, 2009
Chin Music Press, pb (ARC), 209 p.
While playing to lackluster crowds in their hometown of Philadelphia, progressive rock band Agenbite clings to the comforting half-truth that they’re doing better in Japan. When their manager agrees to send them on a shoestring tour of that country, however, they’re swiftly forced to give up their illusions and return Stateside.

All but one of them, that is.

Brain Tedesco, the band’s variously haunted chief composer, has fallen in love with a part-time sex worker – the first woman ever to have touched him – and his illusions have only just begun. What ensues is a Dantesque coming-of-age tale in which Brain must navigate the borderlands between fantasy and reality, past and present, sex and death – even as forces beyond his control conspire to undo him.

By turns compassionate and ruthless, erotic and grotesque, riotously serious and deadly funny, Big in Japan: A Ghost Story is a sparkling, gut-wrenching, face-melting debut novel. [From the back cover]
As you know, I’m always happy to read books that somehow relate to Japan, so I was thrilled when I was contacted by Chin Music Press about their latest title, Big in Japan, which just came out on November 1st.

What stands out for me about this book is how we really get into the brain of Brain! (sorry, couldn’t resist!) The main character, Brain (formerly Brian), is so socially inept and na├»ve, it’s hard to believe there actually are people like him out there. However, his awkward social maneuvers and the thought processes behind them did make for some amusing reading.

Brain wasn’t happy go lucky to begin with, but his gradual descent into despair was like watching the proverbial car crash in slow motion. What was fascinating though was following the process, and seeing the events, which ultimately led to the final scene. I never liked him as a character, but I almost felt like I understood how he could reach such a low point. The story was all a bit odd and unsettling, but mostly in a good way. The way that gets under your skin and stays with you even after you’ve finished the book.

I should warn you that the book does contain scenes of graphic sex and colourful language. If it were a movie, it would most likely be rated an R. As such the story was rather crude at times and one scene in particular was quite … um… revolting. A Western man’s obsession with Japanese women isn’t an original storyline in itself, and it’s taken here to the extreme, but when I occasionally wondered what the heck I was reading, Gammarino’s writing pulled me along and kept me engaged in the story. And when I closed the book after reading the last page, I couldn’t help feeling that underneath all the sordidness, at the heart of the story there lies something much deeper, almost philosophical, about human relationships and desire.

Review in Metropolis magazine
Music playlist for Big in Japan

Thank you to Jennifer of Chin Music Press for the opportunity to read this book.

Buy this book at: | | Chin Music Press

My Rating: 3.5/5
(#57 for 2009)

The small print:  This book was received free of charge from the publisher for review purposes.  Links in this post to Amazon (including book cover) and The Book Depository contain my Associates or Affiliates ID respectively.  Purchases made via these links earn me a small commission.  For more information visit my About Page.


  1. I don't mind if books go far in terms of sex and/or violence as long as it's not pointless, and it sounds like there was definitely a point here!

  2. Nymeth - Exactly! Even though it was uncomfortable to read sometimes, it was all part of the main character's journey. It all had a point.


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