by Kyoko Okazaki
Published by Vertical Inc
Currently in-stock at the Beguiling
Review by Andrew T
Woody Allen once explained part of his process for writing stand-up in an interview. It involved starting from an absurd premise, and then exploring everything around how the mess came about. Giving an example, he describes being caught in an elevator with a piano during a blackout in New York. On it’s own, not a great joke, but there’s so much that can be expanded upon and extrapolated to get to this climatic moment (why was he moving out of his old apartment, why he didn’t have moving men, how did he manage to lift the piano, etc.). Often the material surrounding a crazy situation can be way more interesting, you just have to look at it.
And that’s how I see Kyoko Okazaki’s Pink. Midway through the book Yumi, an office/call girl, is sleeping on a futon in a tiny Tokyo apartment with her kid step-sister, Keiko, and her step-mother’s manstress Haru, all accompanied by Yumi’s pet crocodile. And while that scene is mind-boggling, it’s how they got there and where they go that makes you love and hate them. The thing that drives the main characters in Pink to this moment is sex and how it’s traded. And that’s the story.
For example, Haru uses sex to facilitate his writing. First with Yumi’s step-mom, who acts as his sugar momma, keeping him kept ($$$) so he can focus on school and becoming a novelist. Then, after having sex with Yumi, Haru finally cut-and-pastes his award-winning novel. He starts off the true romantic, hopelessly head over heels for Yumi, but he’s so cynical about classmate Akiko’s unrequited fellatio and affections for him. He wants to get something out of sex, either money or inspiration (which in the end equates money again).
Conversely, for Yumi, sex is supposed to be very transactional. It’s not about people sharing each other’s bodies, but a service that she’s turns into money, food, housing, etc. She needs to get 20lbs of meat per day for Croc to eat. However, for her the payoff of sex isn’t always what is pre-agreed upon. She’s disappointed when she can’t arouse an elderly client whose “pecker’s done for,” (she just wanted to give him one last go out of…pride? Duty?). And it’s later with a client is shockingly mean to her, completely taking over the session with his own sexual prowess and verbally abuses, that Yumi comes “for real.” Yumi is invested in sex, not in what sex gets her.
Okazaki keeps pushing the sex envelope with Haru and Yumi (re)act, culminating with Yumi discovering that her period’s started early. Haru’s just finished his better-than-Anne-of-Green-Gables-or-Little-Women novel, and Yumi is worried that her bleeding will temp Croc to try and eat her. Yet still they have visceral and explicit sex (“like a hotdog covered in ketchup). The moment doesn’t come across particularly gross or intimate. It’s just hilarious.
In the 24 years since Pink was first published, two of North America’s pop-culture touchstones of female sexuality have been Sex and the City and GIRLS. Carrie, Miranda, Samantha, and Charlotte were unabashedly trading sex for shoes, and Hannah & Co. are dealing with the millennial sexual power dynamics of being in your 20s. Both HBO hits had their fair share of shocking and titillating sex scenes, but what they also had were plenty of moments that made you laugh at how funny and weird sex can be. This story is all about how funny and messy sex can be. It’s about making mistakes with the people you mix with. (And about attacking your step-mom with a baseball bat.) It’s all the interesting ways you can combine people. It’s Haru’s white fluids and Yumi’s red fluids blending together. It’s Pink.