In the gritty Gold Rush, Akutagawa prizewinner Miri Yu uncovers the psychic machinery linking wealth and violence, ennui and petty crime, boredom and murder in a tale of a teen who commits patricide, hiding the corpse in a basement vault filled with gold. In Yu's Japan, the kids are definitely not all rightóbut society is far too screwed up to notice.
Kazuki Yuminaga is a 14-year-old boy from a wealthy, deeply troubled Yokohama family. Mom abandoned the home years before on the advice of a fortune-teller. His brother suffers from a genetic disorder called Williams syndrome which, among other things, leaves him literally without a sense of direction. Kazuki's older sister, Mohi, is even more rudderless: the extent of her ambition seems to be part-time prostitution. At the head of this clan is Hidetomo, the almost comically loathsome pachinko-chain owner and abusive drunkard who views his children as "nonperforming assets." Hidetomo's malevolence goes unnoticed outside his family, however, as he sits on the board of trustees at Kazuki's "crassly commercial" school and is very chummy with the chief of police.
Further violence unfolds with a detached, unsettling inevitability, and by the time Kazuki kills Hidetomo, you're almost relieved. After the murder, he descends into a surreal, Oedipal nightmare of guilt and paranoia, eerily coming to resemble his dead father as he struggles to run the household and the pachinko business. Kazuki is so frazzled he can't even get around to disposing of the corpse; as his mind begins to unravel, he desperately concludes more killing may be necessary to conceal the dead body rotting in a vault filled with gold.
Gold and death: Yu links Kazuki's personal meltdown to the decay of a Japanese society in which money is all that matters. Tellingly, Kazuki's dad owes his fortune to pachinko, an utterly mindless form of low-stakes gambling that annually rakes in some $250 billion, is linked to organized crime and sometimes inspires zombie-like trances that have caused Japanese mothers to leave their babies to suffocate in overheated cars. As in real life, the cops in the novel enjoy a cozy relationship with the gaming industry, routinely looking the other way in exchange for high-paying post-retirement gigs as consultants. Corruption is so thoroughly entrenched it masquerades as tradition, and it's no wonder that a rich kid like Kazuki grows up believing everything is negotiable. The adults in the novel aren't outraged as they come to suspect Kazuki of murder. Instead, they plot ways to use Hidetomo's death to their financial gain. The only characters that seem shocked at all are a low-level yakuza and an orphaned peer of Kazuki's, both of whom seem powerless in the face of their own realizations. Power, Kazuki realizes, is just another word for money.
Gold Rush reads a little like a Nipponized version of Bret Easton Ellis' cause macabre American Psycho, with a healthy cut of Murakami sprinkled in. There is the same shrugged response to ultraviolence and a sense that somehow society has let its children down. Grownups are just bigger, more disappointing versions of their kids, and parental supervision is nothing more than a distant rumor. However, where American Psycho, or for that matter Coin Locker Babies, retreated to the more comfortable perspective of satire, Gold Rush is bracingly and clinically realist.
Even if Japan recovers economically, Yu suggests, the darkness gripping it may not lift. "The thing that would actually destroy the human race was not money," her young killer reflects. "It was the threat of losing our very reason for existence." Somehow Japan lost that mooring during the bubble: unless it gets it back, there will be plenty more lurid stories, both in fiction and, even more frightening, on the front pages of the newspapers.