舞城王太郎 (Maijou Outarou) | 235 pages | 新潮文庫 (Shinchou Bunko)
I’m a huge fan of Maijou. He can write cool detective stories about time-traveling detectives and mysteries solved by picking up a piece of shit. His writing is smooth and you have difficulty taking a break from his books. Ideas you never think of just explode in every other sentence. He is one of my favorite contemporary Japanese writers and I don’t think I will ever get sick of him.
However, I wanted to read something different by him. Something more realistic. Something more down to earth. A title like Bitch Magnet should do the trick.
At first glance, the premise reads like a realistic young adult novel. The narrator is a girl and she wants to be a writer, but she has no idea how to begin and she becomes crazy as a result. Meanwhile, her little brother is having some trouble with girls. Their family is on the verge of breakup, especially when the girl finds out her father is dating a younger, more attractive woman. It’s a simple plot that does the job well.
I finished the book thinking that Maijou did a fine job capturing the contradictions of family and youth, nothing more than a simple young adult novel. It was something I would recommend to people, but it wasn’t something I could review. I’m not sure how I would write a review that would only have two words: “Good book.”
As I spoke with other people about the book and quoting passages from the book, I began to realize that this was not just a young adult novel with some depth but a reflection on how our personalities and worldviews are reinforced by the people we hang out with.
Take for example, seriousness. What does it mean to be serious? Or to be perceived as one? There seems to be no answer, but we do know what it means to not be serious. That’s laziness, being silly, et cetera. That is plain obvious. Maybe that’s because we are in the inside not serious. We are lazy and silly people. There is no way to be serious, but we can be perceived as it.
If you don’t agree with this, suppose human nature is serious for a second, then wouldn’t most human beings be not serious? Wouldn’t we then try to pick those lazy people out so we can keep the serious ones intact? Since we haven’t done this yet, it probably doesn’t exist:
So what lies in the core of this book is perception. The title, Bitch Magnet, comes from a very important scene: the little brother says that he seems to be attracting weirdos and self-deprecates by calling himself a “bitch magnet”. His sister shrugs and says,「まあまあ。女なんて皆男から見たらビッチだから」 (“Well, that’s because all men look at women as bitches.”)
Indeed, what is the difference between a bitch and a woman in his eyes? I am reminded of Simone Beauvoir’s The Second Sex where she writes, “One is not born but rather becomes a woman.” Women are asked to love and embrace their femininity, not be bitches/the Other. “We are exhorted to be women, remain women, become women,” Beauvoir says, “it would appear, then, that every female human being is not necessarily a woman; to be so considered she must share in that mysterious and threatened reality known as femininity.”
You begin noticing small scenes having far more impact like the narrator entering a counseling office and trying to answer a questionnaire. She doesn’t know how to answer any of the multiple-choice questions because none of them seem to apply to her.
She then asks herself if it is possible to restore her individual self through therapy and concludes that her individuality — her human nature — must be included as part of the illness the therapist is trying to eradicate.
This isn’t to say that in the beginning, human nature is born brutish. But as time passes, people meet other people and events happen. People get hurt and their personalities take a jump forward in their development. The stories of people — fiction, nonfiction, or anything they see in the world– that surround them will influence their worldview and thus their personalities. This process of individuation is why writers want to write better stories, parents are role models to children, and siblings influence each other. Small things like these combined do build character and shape personalities.
While this isn’t the most revolutionary book in young adult writing and the pacing gets a bit wonky at times, there is something charming with Bitch Magnet in its depiction of adolescence that is still sticking with me now. I didn’t plan on reviewing this book as I said. However, I had to come up with something — even if the review was of shoddier quality than what I would usually write and sounded more like a weird diary entry I have decided to make it public — to understand why I am so attracted to this book.
Is it how Maijou approached the sister-brother relationship? I feel like I have just entered the head of my third sister as she “narrates” the book and talks about me. Or is it how personalities/selves are both based on the rules of nature and nurture? The cover picture used for this post is the 単行本 printing, now out-of-print. A girl “draws” another self of her with a pencil in the midst of a bustling society. That cover seems such an apt way to describe the book it’s a pity the cover went out of use.
Maybe it has to do with the “taboo subjects” Yokoo Tarou was referring to in this Glixel interview. Nobody finds writing or reading subjects like divorce, sexual relationships, and psychiatry fun. It is easier to paint them as black or white. Even more, the point of view is from a teenage girl growing up in the midst of a divorce; it is unsettling, especially in young adult novel standards. We don’t like to think about personalities and human nature, though we pretend to think about them when we read thought-provoking literature. But Bitch Magnet comes along and talks about these taboo subjects nobody wants to think about. Their worldviews they have developed stem from confirmation bias, women are seen as bitches, and normality might mean healing the illness of your individuality. No one wants to correct those mindsets. That’s why they are needed to be talked about.
You can manipulate perception by contributing your own good stories, at least the ones you think are good. Granted, you aren’t any different from people who are forcing their worldviews on others. But because you believe they are good, that’s why you believe in yourself and do what you think is right. It is a disturbing idea to be similar to the people you dislike when it comes to pushing your agenda, but that’s how human nature works.
So the best part of the title is that people don’t have to see themselves as “bitch magnets” if they are able to nurture a bit differently. Stories like these need to be shared, not just for a better future but for a better understanding of how we are affected by everything to confirm our worldview.