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The Method Actors: A Novel [Paperback]

Carl Shuker
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
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Book Description

May 10 2005
'The Method Actors' is set in Japan, New York, and New Zealand. When a young military historian named Michael Edwards disappears in Tokyo, his sister Meredith comes to the city to search for him. There she meets up with old friends and acquaintances from all over the world: ex-JET exchange teachers from Canada, ex-drug addicts from Australia, drug dealers from the Netherlands, young American women with Japanese husbands hostessing for money, French kitchenhands, young Japanese mushroom growers, and wealthy young Chinese-Americans living the high life. Meredith begins to encounter increasing evidence that Michael was involved in something deeper and darker than she could have suspected: a secret history going back through Japanese war crimes in China in World War II to the quarantining of Dutch merchants on manmade islands during Japan's period of isolationism in the seventeenth century.

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Product Description

From Publishers Weekly

Kiwinovelist Shuker's debut follows a set of gaijin—young international 20-somethings who have gravitated to ultrahip, fast-forward Tokyo—as one of their number goes missing. A young Wellington-born military historian researching the Rape of Nanking, Michael Edwards suddenly disappears from his coterie, and his ex-pat clan swings into action despite their own problems. Michael's sister Meredith, 22, rushes back from a U.S. trip and must negotiate their complicated family's concern, as well as her own lack of direction. Catherine (married at 24 and having recently ended an affair with Michael), Yasuhiko (a misfit ex-botanist drug dealer to the rich and foreign), New Zealander Simon and his occasional bedmate Jacques—all get involved to one degree or another, when they can stop thinking about fashion, sex or drugs. Shuker uses short sections titled by character to shift back and forth in time, place and perspective. Meredith tirelessly roots around her brother's life, but the complex, grandiose scope of Michael's research (which may hold the key) pales in comparison to the Tokyo appearance of Catherine's husband. Shuker's dizzying debut shimmers with authentic detail, an uncanny, otherworldly sense of place and a cast of believably hardcore hipsters. (June)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

Loner Yasu cultivates psilocybin mushrooms in his Tokyo apartment. Precocious college dropout Michael, the son of a wealthy New Zealand judge, is a rogue historian. When Michael disappears from his plush Tokyo digs, his sister, Meredith, flies in to search for him. She soon finds herself among a group of promiscuous fellow ex-pats who roam the enormous city, cell phones in hand, struggling with the language and feelings of alienation while consuming mass quantities of cigarettes, vending-machine beer, and drugs. As Meredith flounders, Yasu and his magic mushrooms dovetail with Michael's study of hidden Japanese war crimes in China during World War II. Shuker brilliantly captures Tokyo's edgy atmosphere and the cosmic loneliness of his characters in his overlong yet probing and imaginative debut novel, which possesses the frisson of Alex Garland's The Beach (1997) and a profound moral valence. How do we distinguish between the roles people play and their authentic selves? How contrived is history? How do we live with the knowledge of horrors such as the Japanese atrocities? Shuker poses daunting questions of conscience and compassion. Donna Seaman
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Customer Reviews

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Most helpful customer reviews
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars the right method Aug. 18 2005
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
Japan's relationship with the 'outside' has historically been complex at all levels: political, military, social, individual. This is no less true when the outsiders are inside, living and experiencing the culture and the distorted sense of reality that develops as a consequence. The knotty complexities are experienced intensely at an individual level by foreigners in Japan. 'The Method Actors', in depth and beautiful detail, authentically describes this in ways that i would never have thought could be articulated.
Modern Japan is reflected and refracted through the characters with amazing scope, delving back to the early days of the period of isolation, and forward into an ever present now that is life in Tokyo. Elements of the plot are paralleled with The Twelfth Night: a sister and missing brother in a strange land where illusion, delusion and (self) deception are everywhere; comically and tragically. One of many strands of interwoven narrative centering around gaijin in Japan, each with intricate resonances about family, academia, history and revisionism, interpretation of self and circumstance.
It is a great read. If you've lived in Tokyo you will recognise the people, and you will recognise their reactions and experiences as your own; and even if you haven't you will find plenty to keep you interested.
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Amazon.com: 3.7 out of 5 stars  6 reviews
10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Method and Madness July 20 2005
By Sophia Riddell - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Forget "Lost in Translation" and it's apathetic prettiness, forget the endless NYTimes "Japan-is-so-hip-right-now" lifestyle spreads, forget the tired "mystery of the east" tripe that is still getting trotted out in personal travelogues. "The Method Actors" is the first writing I have read that deals with modern Japan in a way that is compelling, brave and aesthetically challenging.

Family, sex, hallucinogenic drugs, war crimes, a missing sibling, "The Method Actors" sets itself an ambitious goal - to tell the humanly detailed stories of individual foreigners in modern Japan, but to also dig below this into the history of this country, and the history of how foreigners have entered the culture. This is Shuker's first novel. It is long and it requires a similar commitment to that of David Foster Wallace's "Infinite Jest". But, like this novel, this commitment pays off dramatically, in terms of narrative voice, style, and prose dazzlement. I would recommend it not just to anyone who has traveled to or lived in Japan (though for these people the book will be particularly impressive), but to anyone who is interested in getting a deeper understanding of the complexity and moral relativism of Japan's post-WW2 history, and contemporary culture.

This novel is important, but it is also hugely entertaining. Ezra Pound said "a great poet is everywhere present, and nowhere visible as a distinct excitement". Toward the end of this novel, the energy - and I think of this in terms of kinetics, as the friction, conflict, sex, heat, movement of the prose - is ratcheted up. You can literally feel the writer change gears. This energy is creative excitement - the writer's and the reader's - and it is everywhere present.

And this is where my understanding of Pound's quote comes in. Even though the accuracy of Shuker's Tokyo speaks of his clearly personal involvement in the story, as the artist he is nowhere present. To a necessary degree, he has effaced himself. The feat that marks Shuker as someone to watch, is that of projecting his own understanding into this variety of voices, into characters across time, gender, race and culture. Shuker's perspective seems to be that the individual's importance is swallowed up in wider and stronger forces of nation, war, power and history. The quality of empathy, the retaining and championing of the details of the individual - love, memory, belief, habit, inflections of speech - is what makes "The Method Actors" so important.
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Great read! Aug. 11 2005
By Preston De Silva - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
I was once a "gaijin" in the Japanese community not so long ago, and this book has brought back a flood of memories.

The book itself was written with a verbose style that I wholly enjoyed.

It will forever sit on my shelf, and whenever I feel like bringing back some fond or detestable memories of Japan I shall refer to this book.

Thank you Mr. Shuker.
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars intricate Sept. 4 2005
By J. Grant - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Japan's relationship with the 'outside' has historically been complex at all levels: political, military, social, individual. This is no less true when the outsiders are inside, living and experiencing the culture and the distorted sense of reality that develops as a consequence. The knotty complexities are experienced intensely at an individual level by foreigners in Japan. 'The Method Actors', in depth and beautiful detail, authentically describes this in ways that i would never have thought could be articulated.

Modern Japan is reflected and refracted through the characters with amazing scope, delving back to the early days of the period of isolation, and forward into an ever present now that is life in Tokyo. Elements of the plot are paralleled with The Twelfth Night: a sister and missing brother in a strange land where illusion, delusion and (self) deception are everywhere; comically and tragically. One of many strands of interwoven narrative centering around gaijin in Japan, each with intricate resonances about family, academia, history and revisionism, interpretation of self and circumstance.

It is a great read. If you've lived in Tokyo you will recognise the people, and you will recognise their reactions and experiences as your own; and even if you haven't you will find plenty to keep you interested.
4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant Dec 28 2005
By Johnathan D. Wilber - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This is the best book I've read in years. It takes the best of David Foster Wallace and the best of Bret Easton Ellis and then wefts both of them into something entirely singular. It may not be the book for you if you're really concerned about plot, but if you love language, breathtaking prose, and intensely cerebral writing--it's for you.
5 of 10 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars So much hope and promise for this book, but it completly dissapoints Aug. 13 2005
By Rhody Parent - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
I have to say I am not quite sure why I first picked up this book at my local Barnes & Noble. I might have been a sucker for the excellent design of the book cover. But after reading the insert, I was drawn into the premise of the story. Set mainly in Tokyo and its suburbs, the book is about a group of people at the turn of the millenium, each living out their own personal drama. The main focus of the story however, is the search of a young war historian named Michael by his sister Meredith. The author does an interesting job of trying to weave the stories of 5 or 6 main characters into a cohesive novel, and I think he just missed the mark. First, before you start reading this book, be prepared for a challenge. The book is long, which normally is not a problem. But the book is written in a very annoying style. Every few pages is a day or so in the life of one of the main characters, usually written in the first person of that character. What really makes this book a challenging read, is the authors use of too mnany different graphic styles in the actual print of the book. For example, he goes italics way too much. He also has too many sections indented, typed in a smaller text, and various other annoying little font changes. I really think this is an ambitious novel, with a good idea behind it, but the style of writing just did not suit me at all. Also be prepared for graphic sexual context, which is fine, except that all of the sex didn't really seem to fit with the overal plot line of this book. All in all, I was dissapointed by this novel. But it is probably still worth trying it for yourself.
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