In spite of the deniers, there is no more obvious reality than this: guns were designed so that people can kill. Not for any other reason. If you possess a gun, you can kill, which is probably your intent—even if you won’t admit that to yourself. Japanese novelist, Fuminori Nakamura, demonstrates this all too shockingly in his noirishly existential absurdist novel, The Gun, winner of the Shinchō Prize for debut fiction. What better way to demonstrate this premise than by using a country (Japan) where private ownership of guns is prohibited and so out of the norm that the mere possession of one is likely to result in extreme mental instability, which is only to say logical. You own a gun, ergo, you can kill someone. It’s almost your duty, your obligation.
A college student, named Nishikawa, who is also the narrator of the novel, stumbles upon a gun one night quite by accident. He’s out late, wandering the city’s rainy streets, when he decides to walk near the river, under a bridge. In the grass he discovers the body of a man, shot in the head, with a gun nearby on the grass. The student has led a boring life, he tells us, so he decides to pick up the gun (covered with blood, because this was probably a suicide), and take it home with him. His transformation begins immediately, as his mind begins racing: “I could use the gun to threaten someone, or I could use it to protect someone. I could kill someone, or I could even easily commit suicide. Rather than the question of whether or not I would actually do these things, or whether or not I wanted to, what was important was being in possession of that potential—that incarnation of stimulus itself.”
You have a gun, you can kill. Isn’t that pretty much it? Forget all those stupid remarks in the media: “the motive has not been determined, bla bla bla.” The motive is the gun, people. You have a gun, you can kill. Disturbingly, it takes Nishikawa only seconds to discover this. He also concludes that since there were no witnesses to his presence under the bridge that there is no way for anyone to know that he possesses a gun. So he takes it home and begins masturbating with it—oops, I mean polishing it—so obsessively that it might just as well be his penis. And he thinks that since there are still four bullets in the cartridge, his life has altered with immense possibilities. Power, among them.
The gun becomes his alter ego. It provides him with “boundless joy,” since he understands that he is no longer like the average man. He begins taking the gun outside of his flat, walking around with it, wrapped up in a packet. He even takes it with him when he attends classes. But the problem is that he wants to shoot it. After all, what good is a gun if you can’t use it? That opportunity comes about rather quickly. One night when he is again wandering the city’s streets, he discovers a cat that is all bloody, but still alive. It’s unclear if the cat was run over by a vehicle or attacked by another animal, but—again, since he’s in a secluded place—he thinks he should use his gun to put the animal out of its misery. The first shot hits the cat and blows it to pieces. He shoots the gun again for no reason, this time missing what is left of the cat.
Here is Nishikawa’s reaction “I became intensely anxious, worrying that someone might have seen me, yet the anxiety was surpassed by the joy I felt at the same time. It occurred to me that I was not the person I used to be. You could say that I had discovered a supreme joy, and I savored it. I felt grateful to the gun for enabling me to experience this, and I knew I would do anything for it. I had no doubt that this thing I felt was love.” Savage love.
In a brief interlude, Nishikawa speaks on the phone with his mother who tells him that his father is dying and would like to see his son. There’s no love for his father, but Nishikawa agrees to visit him in the hospital. Only when he is in the old man’s presence does he wish that he had brought the gun along with him so he could do to his father what he did to the cat. Since that’s impossible, he denies his father by saying that he is searching for some other patient—that he is not his son. Then his thoughts return to the object of his desire again, and he concludes that “the concept of killing a person was inherent within the gun itself.” And the realization brings him back to life.
More I cannot tell you. I can assure you, however, that although Fuminori Nakamura is still a relatively young man (he was born in 1977), his wisdom is well beyond his years. To construct a novel around an object forbidden in his country and build a psychological thriller around it is no easy task. If I had enough money, I’d send a copy of The Gun to every gun owner in the United States. Perhaps a few of them might realize that if you keep a lethal object in your presence, chances are you will want to use it. And not for self-defense.
An utterly brilliant story.
Fuminori Nakamura: The Gun
Trans. By Allison Markin Powell
Soho Crime, 198 pp., $25.95