Lovers by Mail
Author: Areno Inoue
Specifications: ISBN  978-4087710120
269 pages
13.7 x 19.5 cm / 5.4 x 7.8 in (WxH)
Category: Fiction
Publisher: Shueisha Inc.
Tokyo, 2016
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A suspenseful love story in which a man and woman who know each other only through letters grow increasingly infatuated with each other, then end up colluding to commit a crime. The story is told partly through the letters and partly through conventional narrative.

The woman is Yū Amagai, 35, a well-known children’s author who lives in Tokyo. Her husband Shin’ya is the editor who helped Yū get to where she is today. They have no children. In her letters, Yū calls herself “Rinko” and claims to be a 28-year-old housewife whose husband beats her. Her correspondent is Kōta Mori, 21, a junior in college who still lives with his parents in a small city on the Sea of Japan coast. Calling himself “Kumo’o” (a Japanese name inspired by “Spiderman”) in his letters, he claims to be a 35-year-old bachelor who lives in the better-known regional city of Kanazawa and works for a trading company while teaching karate on the side.

The two became acquainted through a pen-friend club in which members select correspondents based on posted profiles and exchange letters by old-fashioned snail mail. Handwritten letters are sealed in an envelope and enclosed along with enough stamps to cover postage and fees in another envelope addressed to the club, which then forwards the letter to the designated member. The system allows members to correspond without revealing their addresses or other personal information to each other.

Shin’ya is a domineering husband and manager who demands complete obedience from Yū. Whether a commission is for fiction or nonfiction, he chooses her topics, giving her no say in what she will write about; he even insists on approving everything she wears. In her correspondence as “Rinko,” Yū fictitiously transposes this psychological abuse into physical abuse. Kōta, for his part, is unhappy about how things have been going with his girlfriend, and although it’s time for him to get started on the post-college job hunt, with nothing in the way of strengths or accomplishments to tout, he’s finding it hard to get motivated. His concern for “Rinko” and her predicament soon turns to feelings of love. Kōta and Yū do have one thing in common: they are both looking for a way out of lives in which they feel trapped.

They begin exchanging letters in August. The club forwards their correspondence twice each month on a predetermined schedule, and the content of their missives gradually grows more serious as the months go by. Eventually, Yū asks Kōta to kill her husband for her, and he responds favorably. She tells him that Shin’ya belongs to a group of friends who get together once every month to drink, and afterwards he always walks home alone through a certain park in the middle of the night. On the appropriate day at the end of March, Kōta travels to Tokyo and attacks Shin’ya with a wrench. Though seriously injured, Shin’ya survives the attack. When the incident is reported in the newspaper, Kōta learns that “Rinko” is actually a famous author. He contacts her to say he has fulfilled his side of the bargain, and the two meet face-to-face for the first time. Both are disappointed by what they see, but they are also disappointed with themselves—particularly Yū, who had already begun to suspect that her correspondent was younger than he claimed to be, but now sees just how much younger. She is disgusted with herself for having planned everything and incited Kōta to attempt murder.

As he began his attack, Kōta had blurted out, “You must be Rinko’s husband.” Based on this, Shin’ya concludes that Yū had been secretly having an affair, and her paramour had come to attack him after she’d said she wanted to break it off. Yū admits to that version of events, and agreeing to let bygones be bygones, they simply go on with their lives as before.

The tale of a love that is driven to ever greater heights of passion by the very barriers that stand in its way is masterfully plotted to deliver maximum thrills, but it will also have readers contemplating the “spinning of lies” that is the very core and essence of fiction.