Fumiko Enchi George Kearns - Essay

George Kearns

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[Masks] is an intense short novel set about a decade after the war. Enchi's characters are secularized, partly-Westernized intellectuals who maintain an antiquarian interest in traditional Japanese culture and amuse themselves by studying spirit-possession at a Madame Sosostris level of table-rapping. (The medium at a séance speaks in French.) In fact, their interest in spirit-possession and Nō masks is fairly unconvincing: they seem obliged to pursue their interests so that material will be at hand for the author's cloudy, ominous symbolism. Masks is faintly interesting for its glimpses of Japanese life in a post-MacArthur era of ball-point pens, Old Parr scotch, and private detectives who spy on adulterous husbands. The central character is Meiko, a respected poet and editor of a poetry journal, the most unpleasant literary Mother since The Little Foxes. Wronged by her husband in her youth, Meiko takes revenge on men with patience and precision, dominating her widowed daughter-in-law, Yasuko, and manipulating the two men who are in love with Yasuko, a professor of literature and a doctor-psychologist. Using Yasuko as bait for her trap, Meiko tricks one of the lovers into impregnating her retarded adult daughter in order to realize a twisted vision of matriarchy triumphant…. On [the] final page, Yasuko, caught in "helpless bewilderment," wonders that "the vast, mysterious depths within Meiko that had always so fascinated her seemed suddenly to become bottomless." And bottomless was my fascination with Masks—fascination with the spectacle of a gifted writer setting out determinedly to create so fetid a story. (pp. 251-52)

George Kearns, "World Well Lost," in The Hudson Review, Vol. XXXVI, No. 3, Autumn, 1983, pp. 549-62.∗