Tuesday, August 15, 2006


I decided to take a break from Virginia Woolf short stories on Short Story Sunday and was just going to read two other stories from In the Pool by Hideo Okuda. I mentioned one of the stories already a couple weeks ago. The stories are a little long so I thought I'd only read one. "Making a Stand" features the same unconventional Dr. Irabu as "In the Pool." Irabu is a neurologist. In Japan, however, neurology is a code word for psychiatrist. This time Irabu's patient is Tetsuya. Tetsuya's problem is that one morning, after a sexy dream about his wife whom he divorced three years earlier, he got out of bed with an erection, slipped on a magazine he'd left on the floor, grabbed hold of his rickity bookshelf as he fell, and pulled a large Japanese dictionary down with him. The dictionary landed on his groin. So why is he seeing a psychiatrist? Because his erection won't go away. He is diagnosed with Penis petrificatus. Dr. Irabu's first step in treating Tetsuya is to knee him in the groin in the hope that the shock would make the erection go away. It doesn't work. The story just gets more bizarre from there. I enjoyed the story so much that after I finished it I decided to read the next story. And another yesterday and the final story today. Dr. Irabu is in all the stories and is clearly a genius. All of the patients think he is a complete nut but they are so desperate for help that they keep coming back. And Irabu, with the help of his young nurse who flashes her thigh and cleavage at all the patients as she gives them injections, always works a cure. Irabu's patients are as strange as he is, they just don't know it. Besides Tetsuya, there is Hiromi, a trade show model trying to make it big who starts thinking she is being stalked because she is so beautiful. And in "Cell," Yuta, a seventeen year old boy, can't stop texting. When his cell phone is not in his hand he starts having spasms. Finally there is Yoshio who starts to worry that he didn't properly extinguish his cigarettes and his apartment will burn down while he is away. Before he knows it, his obsessive-compulsive checking disorder extends beyond worrying about fire and it takes him two hours to leave his apartment. All of the stories are told from the patient's point of view. We get to be inside their heads and follow their twisted thinking which is oddly logical. At one point Yoshio, the obsessive-compulsive, has this realization:

It occurred to him that the world was made up of two kinds of people: those who make other people worry, and those who do the worrying themselves. Irabu was the former type, and he the latter. It was because the worriers did the worrymakers' share of worrying that the cosmic balance was maintained and the world could go on in peace. But it wasn't fair! Everyone should have an equal share of worry!
Even though we only get an outside view of Dr. Irabu, while the patient thinks the Dr. is wacko, we can watch him manipulate them with his weird suggestions like going to Disneyland, throwing rocks at the hospital across the street, breaking into the public pool, or loosening the bolts on the tires of the rival hospital director's Mercedes. The book has sold over 200,000 copies in Japan. I can see why. These stories are a hoot of a read.