Coin Locker Babies

I first heard of this book when Michael Wong, of Ideagist, visited my Japanese Literature Challenge 2 blog and asked me if I had a copy. I told him I’d buy him one, which I did, but when it arrived from I had to see what it was about. After reading a few pages, I ordered him another, and sat down to immerse myself in this story.

Like so much Japanese literature I’ve read, there’s a quality of fantasy that’s hard to put one’s finger on. Is it the author’s imagination run wild? Or, as in a John Irving novel, is the bizarre not so bizarre after all? Somehow, after the first hundred or so pages, the reader doesn’t even mind if strange creatures come into the characters’ lives, or absurd thoughts present themselves to the characters’ stream of consciousness. It all seems perfectly natural, somehow, in a piece of well written literature.

Coin Locker Babies is about two babies who are abandoned by their mothers in train station coin lockers. “Two troubled boys spend their youth in an orphanage and with foster parents on a semi-deserted island before finally setting off for the city to find and destroy the women who first rejected them. Both are drawn to an area of freaks and hustlers called Toxitown. One becomes a bisexual rock singer, star of this exotic demi-monde, while the other, a pole vaulter, seeks his revenge in the company of his girlfriend, Anemone, a model who has converted her condominium into a tropical swamp for her pet crocodile. Together and apart, their journey from a hot metal box to a stunning, savage climax is a brutal funhouse ride through the eerie landscape of late-twentieth-century Japan.”

The theme of abandonment, and the pain that causes, runs throughout this novel. Regardless of culture, or life style choices, the distress which comes from knowing that their mother has left them becomes almost unbearable for these two young men. We see their choices, most of them which are self-destructive, in their pursuit for self-acceptance. Secondary, to me, was the plot line which in itself is enthralling; I chose to dwell on their emotional aspects first rather than the physical ones.

This novel looks at what it means to be a child and an abandoned one at that. It is heartbreaking and insightful, especially to those readers who may have been adopted themselves. Regardless of culture, regardless of age, regardless of reason, being adopted is painful. Yet there is comfort in exploring the issue, in knowing that other adoptees have similar feelings.

I found this an incredibly profound work, as well as a fascinating look into the Japanese world.