About a month ago, the brilliant and ever-so-kind Daniel Duford let me borrow his copy of Yoshihiro Tatsumi’s The Push Man and other Stories (Fantagraphics 2005) and I’m probably going to have to replace it now (sorry, Daniel!) because I can’t stop myself from reading and re-reading these dystopic little vignettes over and over again.
Tatsumi’s characters strike a similar chord with me that my favorite English-speaking fiends do from drama and fiction (Shakespeare’s Iago and Nabokov’s Humbert come immediately to mind). Previous reviewers have already pointed out here that these stories tend to revolve around men who feel oppressed by women and hence fantasize or even act out aggressively because of it, but I think that’s an oversimplified way of viewing things. All of Tatsumi’s characters are broken and terrible in their own ways; and while it feels natural to want to distance ourselves from them and judge them for the awful things they do, the more we consider their situations the more we come to identify with them.
OprahLit here in the U.S. usually gets away with moving characters along far enough on the timeline or in “golden opportunity” moments that give them one last chance for redemption. And when they make the right (but usually tortured) decision to move away from the darkness, we collectively exhale grandly, cheering that Everything Is Gonna Be Alright. That’s why it’s so interesting to read Tatsumi’s stories: these golden opportunities never present themselves.
The more we study the world, the more we realize these opportunities simply *don’t belong*, that they are an elaborate rhetorical trick to get us to finally disconnect from what we’re really experiencing. Tatsumi’s characters aren’t flawed because they drink too much and haven’t found Jesus yet; they are individuals who–like all of us–are being ground up in the machinery of their jobs and relationships (this is brilliantly metaphorized by the title character, the Push Man, who is caught in an endless loop of both railing against and controlling the machine).
In the end, yes, we are all together, but we are all suffering.