Beach balls soaring above hay-yellow sand, on which crowds of restless teenagers mingle under the strobe lights of the drunken sun isn’t the typical spring break montage for all.
For some, the week-long break entails awkward family reunions, when elated mothers parade their college-proficient kid — now well-versed in the theories of Hobbes and Locke — to distant relatives.
However, few family tensions are worse than the familial dynamic in Kanae Minato’s novel “Confessions,” which tells the story of mother and teacher Yuko Moriguchi, who finds her four-year-old daughter, Manami, floating dead in the middle school’s swimming pool at the hands of two of her students.
The book opens with Moriguchi starkly delivering her final lecture to her classroom before her resignation. This captures the sociopathic aura of maniacal revenge that consumes Moriguchi as she confronts her pupils, Shuya Watanabe and Naoki Shitamura, directly and later inconspicuously throughout the text.
Minato presents a bleak scene populated with frozen students silently listening to their beloved teacher’s eerily wounded speech, captivating readers by what is discerned to be unstable psychotic human beings in their utmost purity.
But, after being lured further into the novel, one finds a human soul in each character previously deemed as a sociopath. By recounting each characters’ personal tale in their own words, the author laces our minds with the characters’ emotional grief, despair, and dejection. As readers, we are forced to remember their humanity and understand the reasons for their clawing away through an unstable path rooted in psychological and physical destruction — toward both themselves and others.
Though we don’t condone the monstrosities of the characters’ pernicious natures, Minato offers us an olive branch to reconcile with the characters as she conveys them empathetically.
Perhaps what dilutes the horrifying disproportionate actions among Moriguchi, Shuya, and Naoki, is the mother motif that is threaded throughout the book, sweetening the taste buds of our consciousness.
The motif evidently embodies Moriguchi’s role as a mother fighting for the justice of her abused daughter, and is also present in the backstories of the Shuya and Naoki’s intentions leading up to the murder of Manami.
Moriguchi’s first act of revenge is poisoning Shuya and Naoki’s milk cartons — which are part of the class-wide milk experimentation issued by the government — with HIV-infected blood. Milk, a source of nourishment that is created in the mother and fed to infants, symbolizes the mother’s role in a child’s formation. It is as if a fragment of the mother literally courses through the child.
However, the presence of milk also rebukes the association of a nurturing mother by it being infected — a HIV-blood-infested carton that corrupts and mocks the structural benefits of pure milk. This demonstrates an extreme duality in motherhood: the nurturing and the neglecting, both of which each are apparent in the boys’ mothers.
Shuya grows up with a genius mother, who adores her son but also abuses him during her periodical revelations of the life of research she had given up for their family.
Eventually, Shuya’s mother neglects and abandons him to continue her dream, leaving Shuya broken, bitter, and hungry to invent a master gadget with the ability to kill. He concocts a plan to kill Manami with his contraption in order to break headlines and attract his mother’s attention.
Naoki’s mother contrastingly embodies the excessively loving mother who spoils him, feigns praise, and stands as a barrier between the child and his life’s obstacles. Naoki’s sheltering from his own mediocrity is only heightened by the suppressed festering of his insecurities.
Naoki is exposed to nonentity through cram school (specialized schools outside of regular schooling to train and help students reach particular academic goals), malicious bullying, and unrequited dependence on his teachers. His ensuing thirst for public accomplishment was fulfilled in Shuya’s plan to attack their teacher Moriguchi, whom the boys felt didn’t pay them enough special attention, by hurting her daughter.
Moriguchi herself can be seen as a devoted mother driven to a place of maniacal passion after her loved one is violently ripped away from her, leaving her no choice but to taint the milk she has no use for.
While Minato’s “Confessions” relates a story of murder, a gripping conflict is always appealing to curious minds, the way in which this murder mystery is unraveled makes a commentary on parenting and societal pressures.
Through the gaps of violence and enigma, Minato magnifies the role of nurturing and upbringing that is bundled in culture, and in this case, through a collectivist Japanese society.
References to cram school, class-wide milk experimentation, societal shunning of single mothers, communal facet that resides in the teacher-student bond, and pressure to succeed all play a part in the formation of these characters and pressures that lead to Manami’s tragic death.
Magnifying dark confessions lurking under family tensions, Minato’s “Confessions” is sure to settle personal family strains, making one’s worst nightmare of sifting through bare-bottom days a fleeting dream, and providing an eerie space for one to bury one’s hatchets, albeit hopefully not through murder.