Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Another Perspective on Untrue Crime

Occupied City by David Peace, is a story of a true, unsolved crime, like The Black Dahlia, by James Ellroy, but the two novels could not be more different.  Both Occupied City  and Dahlia start with a real murder, and create a work of fiction around it.  But where Dahlia creates a narrative that translated easily to a movie, Occupied City fights the convention of the narrative until the bitter end.

In 1948, someone walked into a Tokyo bank, and convinced the 16 people who were there to drink poison.  There were a few survivors, but most of those poisoned died at the scene.  A well known painter was eventually convicted of the crime, however his guilt has been questioned continuously since he plead guilty.

The "story" in Occupied City is told by several characters, including a survivor of the attack, a reporter, a Soviet war crimes investigator, a US biological weapons investigator, the painter, a police officer, a rogue detective, a parent of one of the victims, and the actual killer.  The stories are combined through the Japanese technique of intermixing occult seances.  However, instead of each character having a different voice, each has a different method of telling the story.  One tells his story only through letters to his spouse and superior.  One tells the story only through fragmented thoughts in a police notebook.  One speaks through a sort of free verse poetry.  Only the killer, and to a lessor extent the survivor and the mother of the victim, speak in a way that could be considered traditional narrative.  The story does not progress, so much as the same event, its effect, and its antecedents are told from different perspectives.

I heard about this book when it was reviewed in the New York Times.  If you are interested in a book that combines many storytelling techniques, if you are interested in the specific crime that is the subject of this book, or if you are interested in Japan's experimentation with biological weapons during World War II, then this is the book for you.  It wasn't really the book for me, but I don't regret reading it.

Next up:  Absurdistan by Gary Shteyngart

Still Listening to:  Run by Ann Patchett

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