The Maid, by Yasutaka Tsutsui
Yasutaka Tsutsi’s The Maid takes the reader into the minds of the ordinary: the lacivious husband, the desperate to stay young wife, the family that despises cleaning. It follows the growth of a young girl who has always been able to hear the innermost longings and thoughts of those around her. It questions what it really means to know someone, and the terrible things that can hide behind the facade of everyday life.
We travel through everyday Japan with Nanase, a girl who can hear the thoughts of others. This extra sense neither excites nor inspires her. Instead:
Nanase could not recall when she first realized she had the power to read people’s minds. But not once during her eighteen years had she ever thought that it was a particularly unusual ability. She even felt that there must be a lot of people with this power, her logic being that anyone who could do this would keep it secret, as she herself had done.
Her first job takes her to a puzzle, a woman whose thoughts seem so shallow, so focused on the everyday, that Nanase cannot understand her at all. She is soon distracted from this mystery by the all too obvious thoughts of the rest of the family: the father reliving extra-marital conquests, the daughter flaunting transgressions, and the son, where the danger for Nanase lays, lusting after the pretty young maid his mother has just hired. Nanase’s response to these threats is to flee. In fact, she continues fleeing in the next story, running from too much flith and hatred.
Nanase begins with a blase attitude towards her “extra” sense, and she tends to use it both defensively and to indulge in her curiousity about her employers. However, although she would be the first to claim that “for her, mind-reading was neither a plus nor a minus”, she bends her life around it to accomodate and protect this special ability. It is at her third job that Nanase becomes more proactive, fascinated by the obsession with youth her newest employer focuses on. That, too, falls apart, and she flees from job to job, sometimes in physical danger, sometimes in danger of exposure, gradually learning to use her extra sense as more than a passive tool. Her work as a maid allows her to move easily from place to place for the protection that anonymity brings, and her role as a silent presence in a house deflects the thoughts of others from her. But these protections are not full proof, and Nanase must flee house after house, until her final job leads her to a mind darker than any she could ever imagine.
Tsutsui’s Nanase is a dangerous innocent, both intruder and victim to the vagaries of the lives around her. The language in these stories is spare and sharp, and it is easy to forget that, although Nanase sees more than most, she is still blind to some things that go on around her. This lack, a deafness that comes from youth and inexperience, puts her in danger and shakes the lives of those around her to the core, and gives the stories a haunting quality and lyrical presence that shows the stories of ordinary people for the complex and often dangerous realities they really are.