“Coin Locker Babies,” a Brilliantly Dark Saga
When ones gets through the first chapter, or even for that matter, the first sentence, of Ryu Murakami’s Coin Lockers Babies, there is a sudden realization that the mundane is grotesque, sordid, and fetid–that natural everyday life hides behind it a prominent unnaturalness, and vice versa.
Murakami’s novel, after all, was based on the true phenomenon of rampant infanticide in Japan and China in the ’80s and ’90s, where parents abandoned their infants in coin lockers. While the novel’s characters, Kiki and Hashi, escape this fate, their coming of age, quasi-cyberpunk odyssey is one with no catharsis. There is an angst and anger, as personal as it is societal, in Murakami’s world of psychological torment and neglect that spans the remote Japan islands to the radioactive “toxitown” ghettos and bordellos of Tokyo, where life seems as complex in its sexuality, desire, and violence as it is simple in its needs.
The inner lives of the Kiki and Hashi, connected at birth only through their shared first experience being left in a coin locker, form a type of underdeveloped, schizophrenic consciousness that struggles to come to terms with a world of murders, eccentrics, perverts, vagabonds, and media sycophants as much as it struggles to comes to terms with itself. This dark degenerate world follows similar themes of that in Murakami’s breakout debut novel Almost Transparent Blue, but Coin Locker Babies is exceptional in how innocently and causally everything unfolds.
The stories of the two characters weave together organically in conflicting and interesting paths, but in his storytelling, Murakami is perhaps too succinct, too cohesive. At times the reader may wish the novel was longer, the secondary and tertiary characters more evolved, and the story, a never ending homage to the tortured, putrid realism of anti-heroes.