In the South of the not-too-long-ago past, if something tragic happened to a lady, she retreated from polite society.
“She’s taken to her bed,” was the most often used expression to describe a period of mourning.
In “Hikikomori and the Rental Sister,” author Jeff Backhaus has created a character who puts our tradition on a whole other level.
Thomas Tessler has been holed up in his room for three years, coming out only during the dead of night to make a run to a convenience store to stock up on supplies.
Tessler and his wife, Silke, have lost their only child in a horrific accident. Silke continues her life on the outside, but Thomas is now a “hikikomori,” a man who withdraws from the world.
Desperate to draw her husband back to real life, Silke hires a “rental sister” – a popular custom in her native Japan – to help Thomas cope.
While the premise is intriguing, I found the writing tedious and trite. I gave up after about 100 pages, bored to tears with Thomas, even though I realize the horror he must have experienced and really wanted to like him. Rather than painting him with a sympathetic brush, Backhaus makes the bereft father totally self-absorbed and whiny.
Maybe that kind of behavior gets a “rental sister” and the starring role in a novel set in New York City. In the South, three years of it would get you a trip to the woodshed and a couple of weeks hoeing my granddaddy’s spring garden.
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