In Hiroko Oyamada's intriguing parable-like The Hole, a young childless couple, Asa and Muneaki, trade urban for rural when Muneaki is transferred for work. They end up living rent-free next door to his parents in a conveniently vacated rental house his parents own. While Muneaki commutes--taking their only car--Asa becomes a stay-at-home wife after quitting her temporary job. Asa has little to do beyond housework and cooking. Her mother-in-law, Tomiko, too, is gone all day at work, and her father-in-law is virtually invisible, although less-than-communicative Grandpa is always in the yard watering plants. Tomiko's call for a favor one day sends Asa out to the nearest convenience store--a long walk in the hot summer sun. On the way, she encounters a mysterious animal, falls into a hole, is saved by a neighbor whom she's never met but who seems to know far too much. The money Asa has been given to deposit proves not enough, and her encounter with another stranger will lead to bizarre revelations.
Originally published in 2014 and subsequently awarded Japan's highly coveted Akutagawa Prize, The Hole is Oyamada's second book (after The Factory) to be translated by the award-winning David Boyd. His deft replication of Oyamada's taut, controlled style highlights the building tension as Asa's solitude devolves into a fever dream of inexplicable, unpredictable occurrences. At just over a hundred pages, Oyamada's slender novel belies a multi-layered, complex examination of contemporary disconnect and isolation so chillingly affecting that the surreal quickly turns convincingly plausible, and then all too insistently real. --Terry Hong, Smithsonian BookDragon