“The Very Edge of Happiness” (short story) by Yasutaka Tsutsui
English Publication History:
Salmonella Men on Planet Porno (Alma Books, 2006)
Salmonella Men on Planet Porno (Pantheon Books, 2008)
Original: Japanese, 1973
Translated by Andrew Driver, 2006
Synopsis: A life dedicated to his work, one man’s unfortunate outcome also seems him living with his mother, wife, and son. Usually tetchy, once a month, circumstances get the best of him and he treats both his wife and son abusively. His numbness is confirmed when he, and others, witness a mother beat her child to death in a bank. This emotional fatigue extends to a long holiday where car traffic and foot traffic wear all tempers and souls thin.
Brief Intermission: Along with Tsutsui’s “Commuter Army”, “Hello, Hello, Hello!”, and “Bad for the Heart”, this is the other short story based on the daily struggles of Japan’s symptomatic social pit of the salaryman. I’m a sucker for the salaryman-type stories: e.g., Ryo Hanmura’s “Cardboard Box” (1975/1980), Hiromi Kawakami’s “Mogera Wogura” (2002/2005), Mayumura Taku’s “I’ll Get Rid of Your Discontent” (1962/2007) from Kurodahan Press’s Speculative Japan (2007). But out of all them, “The Very Edge of Happiness” is the most powerful, the most visual, and the most gruesome. One of the very best short stories I have ever read!
Analysis: The inhumane pressures of work take their toll on one man. Though he has a family, no one would call him a “family man”, as he strikes his wife and places his baby son in a scalding bath. These instances of abuse don’t touch his conscious as he remains coolly and cruelly detached from any emotion. His systematic frustration, anger, and abuse boils over into a holiday in which everyone seems to be flocking to the same destination; slowly yet progressively, the masses of flesh press forward toward the sea. Over the roads, cars amass; through the trees, bodies press against each other; on the sand, only one direction remains as the momentum of the horde presses on; and now ankle-deep, hip-deep, and shoulder-deep in the water, something is amiss. All of this progression results in only forward momentum—bodies line the seabed and yet, the only way is forward.