I Called Him Necktie, by Milena Michiko Flasar, translated by Sheila Dickie, (New Vessel Press), 133 pages
The promotional material I found online for I Called Him Necktie opens by claiming “This is the Japanese Catcher in the Rye for the 21st Century.” Audacious as this claim may seem, I think it’s accurate. I Called Him Necktie is a marvel of a book, brief but rich, written from the standpoint of a deeply alienated young man.
The narrator Taguchi Hiro is a hikikomori—one of the estimated 100,000 to 320,000 (data provided by the author) Japanese young people overwhelmed by this highly competitive society who “refuse to leave their parents’ house, shut themselves in their rooms and reduce their contact with the family to the minimum.” Hiro has begun to leave the family home unobserved, spending long stretches of time sitting on a favorite bench in a local park. It’s at this park that Hiro meets “Necktie,” an unemployed businessman who has not been able to tell his wife about the loss of his job and who leaves home each day as if he were still going to work.
Hiro and Necktie are compelling characters, deeply troubled, but easy to understand and identify with. Hiro has abandoned societal expectations; Necktie is unable to abandon them, despite his own desires and circumstances. As the two trepidatiously build a friendship they strengthen one another. Hiro recounts stories of classmates with burdens similar to his own; Necktie reveals the tragedy lying in his own past.
The book is just 133 pages long, but each of those pages—each paragraph—is a treasure. Like Catcher in the Rye to which it’s compared, it is a book for repeated reading that will offer up new rewards each time.