Review - SALARYMAN UNBOUND, Ezra Kyrill Erker
Iwasaki Shiro is a hard-working, Japanese family man. With a controlling wife, disrespectful children, and a murder fantasy. Most of what Shiro does is somehow never quite right. Whether it's his suggestion for changes at work that is rapidly turning out to be a disaster in the making, or his initial attempts to become a murderer. There's a bit of thought, a lot of fantasy and an inability to actually achieve much. Except that whilst planning a killing, somehow he becomes more confident, and actually sets some rules for the family.
For somebody as ineffectual as Shiro, he's a fascinating character. One of those that readers might find themselves barracking for, despite his dreadful intentions. He's obviously one of life's lost causes, although it's not until the very end of the book that the reader becomes aware of how lost.
SALARYMAN UNBOUND gives the reader a strong sense of connection to an anti-hero, as well as palpable sense of Japan. The way that the culture, expectations and society place such pressure on people to conform, and the level of discomfort that creates in somebody who really seems like an ordinary person, backed into a difficult situation. Granted, the idea that murdering somebody ... anybody, as the solution to that pressure seems extreme, but it kind of fits with this personality and the situation he's in.
Added to that sense of place, pressure and a fascinating anti-hero, is the plot which seems to roll along, in a direction that's not obvious. Despite this lack of an obvious direction, there is a sense of pace, and tension that builds, until the final twist. SALARYMAN UNBOUND delivers that twist in the same sort of matter-of-fact manner as it sets up the original idea of murder as a way of empowering a sad man. Whilst that final twist might not come as a huge surprise to some readers, it's poignant, moving in way. You can't help but feel that Shiro has never had a break in his life, but you really can't decide if that's his fault, or he's just one of lifes natural victims.
Iwasaki Shiro, a 46 year old salaryman in Tokyo is having a midlife crisis. Unexceptional in his IT job, he works in the shadow of his boss’s charisma. His children are embarrassed by his mediocrity and his wife rarely thinks of him as an individual. He has nothing to show for decades of conformity and doing the right thing.
Shiro needs purpose in his life, so he begins to plot the murder of a neglected housewife on his street. He takes trips to scout places to dispose of a body, researches knives and arteries, and buys a neurotoxin while on a business trip in Thailand. His plans transform his personality – he can stand up to his boss, keep his children in line, wear the trousers in the marriage – but as he gets ever closer to doing the deed, it becomes clear there is more going on than he suspected.
Salaryman Unbound is a taut, literary crime novel set in contemporary Japan.