This volume contains one mid-length and three short works of literary fiction. A well-rounded collection by a seasoned writer, it addresses a wide variety of themes from distinctive angles and with penetrating insights.
The mid-length title piece portrays a writer’s tenacious and even obsessive pursuit of his art. The unnamed protagonist is a 68-year-old author. He has lived alone with his 14-year-old Shih-tzu since his wife died four years ago. Publishers have stopped commissioning work from him, his own writing isn’t going particularly well, and he has little to fill his days besides walking the dog. On one such walk, he notices an unusual tree whose trunk splits like a Y about two meters from the ground.
Upon graduating from university, the author took a job with a modestly sized publisher specializing in books on medicine and health care, while cultivating his literary ambitions on the side. A manuscript he submitted to a new-writer contest in 1991 finally led to his debut as an author at the age of 44. Unfortunately, his inclinations toward realism were out of step with the post-modern literary times, and apart from a brief period when he enjoyed some success in YA fiction, his opportunities to be published gradually dwindled. In 1996, he resigned from the company he’d been with for 25 years to take up a creative writing position at a private university, but his wife’s earnings as a piano teacher remained essential to making ends meet.
The protagonist’s reflections on his relationship with the true-life author Tōji Ōse (1928?88), whom he met in his role as editor and greatly admired, are a central part of the story. Ōse, a physician, had written fiction on the side and was even shortlisted for the prestigious Akutagawa Prize in 1956 for his story Garasu no kabe (The Glass Wall). The prize went to another candidate, however, and he never saw success as a fiction writer, making good instead as an author of books on medicine and healthcare for the general reader. As part of their editorial relationship, the protagonist and Ōse carried on discussions about the art of fiction and the writing life, with broad-ranging reference to literary figures in both Japan and the West. Then in 1988, three years before the protagonist’s own breakthrough as a writer, he received a postcard from Ōse’s wife saying that he had hung himself with a rope on the balcony of their apartment. The protagonist notes how closely the suicide resembled the scene from The Glass Wall in which the young protagonist of that story kills his father with a rope, and wonders if Ōse was effectively rehearsing his own death in his maiden work.
The protagonist resigns from his teaching position, aiming to make a new start as a writer of period fiction, but once his wife is gone, he falls into increasingly dire economic straits. Seeing the Y tree on his daily walks with his dog draws him little by little into Ōse’s frame of mind. Finally, he leaves his dog with a friend and goes to the Y tree with a rope?only to fail in his attempt to hang himself.
In the course of the narrative, the protagonist returns repeatedly to accounts of how writers like Nikolai Gogol and Franz Kafka remained unalterably committed to their writing right up to the end. The reader sees a similar single-minded devotion to literature in the protagonist as he looks to such literary greats for guidance in determining his own course as a writer.