Thursday, September 11, 2014

"What You Do Not Know You Want" by David Mitchell

Deal Me In Lite, R.I.P. Edition, Week 2: "What You Do Not Know You Want" by David Mitchell (Story 2 of 13)

For Week 2 (and Story 2) of my R.I.P. version of Deal Me In Lite, I selected the 6 of spades which led me to a story from a most interesting anthology, McSweeney's Enchanted Chamber of Astonishing Stories, edited by Michael Chabon.  Three or four of the stories on my R.I.P. short story list come from this anthology, and the initial story I picked, "What You Do Not Know You Want," did not disappoint.


The story revolves around an item from a real-life incident, the death by seppuku (ritual suicide by disembowelment, otherwise known as hara-kiri) of Yukio Mishima, the notable Japanese actor, poet, playwright, and film director (picture at left).  The narrator of the story, whose name we never find out, is a dealer of esoteric and exotic antiques, and he is on the trail of the dagger that Mishima used to kill himself.  He rightly figures that it would be worth a lot of money to the right customer, and he just happens to have one lined up.  However, as the story opens, the narrator is in a hotel in Hawaii, looking for clues about the death of his business partner, who killed himself by jumping off the hotel roof.  The dagger, which he was supposed to be procuring, is also missing.  His search for the dagger and the outcome of that search is the rest of the story.

The narrator has nicknames for everyone: his business partner is "Vulture," his fiance (whom he is planning to marry for her money primarily) is "Nightingale," and the proprietor of the hotel where Vulture died is "Werewolf."  Another character, a young Chinese girl who is supposed to be the proprietor's niece, is named Wei, and this appears to be her real name.  I think there might be some significance there, but I would have to read the story another time or two to see if I am right.  The narrator has quite a few run-ins with Wei, as it turns out, and we feel an undercurrent of danger in their interactions with each other, but we never quite understand exactly what it is -- until it's too late.

The entire story has a kind of hard-boiled, noir-ish feel to it as the narrator hunts down the dagger in some very seedy and dangerous locales.  Add to this the nightly screaming of someone a few rooms down from the narrator's room, and you have the ingredients for a highly atmospheric and unsettling story.  By the way, the title of the story (which was the reason I chose it) comes from the phrase on the narrator's business cards.  By the end of the story, this phrase has been given new significance with a shocking twist that puts a special spin on it.

I did not know it when I chose this story, but the author just also happens to have written Cloud Atlas and The Bone Clocks, the latter of which appeared on this year's Man Booker Prize longlist (but not the shortlist, as was announced a couple of days ago).  I found this story riveting and suitably creepy, a perfect story for my R.I.P. reading, and it makes me eager to read more of Mr. Mitchell's stuff.  Have you read any of his works?

1 comment:

  1. Yep. Isn't it funny how he looooves the idea of demons inside people? His book ghost writer was sort of about that too.

    Honestly? I think it's not all that interesting a concept. Cause it's, you know, not real. So it's cool the first time, but then comes off like an overused plot device