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Dream Messenger.

At age three, Masao Fudo was stolen from his mother by his father, who then promptly died. Masao winds up - reborn as Matthew Katagiri - in a New York City orphanage in the business of renting its charges (by the day, week, or longer) to people who want to taste or relive the joys of parenthood. To help him survive these stressful and identity - muddying experiences, Matthew conjures a "guardian spirit" or alter ego named Mikainaito with whom he continues to converse into adulthood when we meet him, now twenty-eight years old, living in Tokyo, and earning a living as a "professional friend and lover." Meanwhile, after twenty-five years of wheel-spinning, Matthew's mother (herself now back in Tokyo and the wealthy widow of an "infamous land speculator" with mob connections) has decided to locate her son, hiring an eccentric, washed-up novelist and a securities analyst/former beauty queen to track him down. Their yo-yoing search takes them from a prison outside Tokyo to New York City and back and brings them into contact with a host of more or less odd characters who might have some knowledge of Matthew's whereabouts.

Shimada, who has been touted in the New York Times as "one of the major new Japanese voices," works hard to make this storyline, by turns threadbare and self-consciously quirky, more than a divertissement enlivened by New Age-ish excursions into the paranormal (Matthew's guardian spirit is able to visit other people's dreams), forays down Tokyo's meaner streets (including encounters with street gangs and visits to gay bars and sex hotels), and glimpses into the disaffected lives of the young that seem cribbed from Brett Easton Ellis. There are rants against what Japan has become, a relentless equation drawn between the rental child business and the commodification of all personal relationships today, speculations on the need for a radical change in human consciousness, no end of "masters" dishing up advice on the art of living, and a half-hearted effort to blur the line separating dream from reality.

The problem is that nothing here quite comes off - the "dream messenger" business is never fully exploited, remaining mostly an oddity of Matthew's even odder personality; the plot fizzles out; and the prose tries very hard to be hip but is flat and strained, like an undercover cop trying to mingle outside a rock concert. The book never attains the effortless magic of Haruki Murakami, whose work seems a decided influence on Shimada, or of Richard Brautigan, the master of eccentric understatement whose mark can be found on both Murakami and Shimada. On the basis of Dream Messenger and his novella "Divertimento for Leftists," Shimada may be a writer to watch, but one hopes this novel is not the high point of his career.
COPYRIGHT 1993 Review of Contemporary Fiction
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Copyright 1993 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Horvath, Brooke
Publication:The Review of Contemporary Fiction
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jun 22, 1993
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