The Shitos are a family of eight, spanning four generations and living under the one roof. When a young woman, Noriko, marries the Shito son Kazuhito, she is marrying more than just one man; she is marrying in to his family. Every family has its quirks, its particular way of doing things, but in Now You’re One of Us, the quirks of this close-knit family, might well turn out to be something a lot more sinister.
When Noriko meets Kazuhito, it is love at first sight, but she and her family have their reservations due to the size of his family and the work that might involve. Noriko’s reservations are soon discarded though. She meets the family and finds them to be friendly and welcoming, living together and growing many plants in their large house in Tokyo.
However, soon after accepts the marriage proposal, Noriko realises that all is not what it seems. Her new husband has failed to mention that the household also contains a bed-ridden father who can’t speak and a mentally disabled brother, for fear that Noriko would have decided not to marry him.
Once she moves into the house, things get more strange. Why does Ei, the great-grandmother and matriarch of the family get lots of private visitors? What really happened to a neighbour who tried to give Noriko a message, but then the next day, kills himself and his family in a murder-suicide? Why do the family meet in the middle of the night for private discussions and why do a grown brother and sister bathe together? Moreover, what about the strange plants and mushrooms they all tend to with such devotion?
‘It’s not easy to understand another family’ says one of the Shitos and Noriko initially puts her reservations down to being in a new familial situation. Now You’re One of Us sets up its premise well at the start, posing enough questions to hook the reader. Despite the unusual happenings in the Shito household, the family always maintain their calm, smiling façade and their devotion to Noriko, which adds to a strangely creepy atmosphere.
Noriko, you will understand when the time comes. You are the family’s treasure and everyone here cares about you – and that’s precisely why it will take time
Noriko’s friend Tomomi cannot understand why Noriko would not be blissfully happy within such a kind and welcoming, and ultimately, wealthy family. Everyone tells her that her concerns can be put down to the stress of the recent change in circumstances and she starts to doubt herself rather than her in-laws. So far, so Rosemary’s Baby. Is this all in her head? Or is right and should she trust her instincts that something unusual or even illegal is going on in the Shito household?
A suspicious heart breeds demons in the dark
It is a shame then that the story starts with such unsettling intensity, but suffers from sluggish pacing and a surfeit of reveals that don’t really lead anywhere.
For most of the book, Noriko succumbs to her concerns, raises questions with her husband and her friend Tomomi, then is convinced to put her suspicions out of her head in an attempt to keep her new family happy. Each time she settles her mind to her situation, she experiences another strange occurrence and the rigmarole continues, until the reader is crying out for some resolution.
It is possible that the book will read differently in its original Japanese, where the significance of familial obligation and the purity of bloodlines would have a much more charged significance than it does in the West. The book does give some insight into Japanese traditions, particularly around marriage, but in terms of working as a horror, the mildly chilling beginning does not blossom into anything interesting.
Eventually Noriko comes to accept her place in this unusual family and the rather far-fetched conclusion, when it finally comes, will no doubt divide readers. For me, it was too little too late.
Despite a strong translation by Michael Volek and Mitsuko Volek, which creates a suitable odd atmosphere, the novel’s length and uneven pacing means that it runs of out steam. Now You’re One Of Us could have been a fantastic novella, or a really excellent short story, but it’s length means that the scares are stretched a little too thin.
I read this as part of the RIP Challenge 2019
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I am a 40 something book buying addict trying to reduce the backlog one book at a time!