into food? into sex? those are
the easy things about Crawling At Night. The hard and gorgeous thing about this debut novel is the heartbreak.
Ito, an aging sushi chef with a secret, has recently arrived in New York. Mariane is a sloppy but sexy alcoholic who waits tables at the restaurant where he cooks. She hopes to recover her baby, taken away from her by child services. He's hoping to recover his dignity.
With an original and very sensual style, new novelist Nani Power tracks their histories -- his as a conventional Japanese husband with a Chinese mistress, hers as a southern teen trapped in a marriage -- as they navigate New York's network of after-hours clubs and noodle joints and try to connect.
Power herself worked in a Japanese restaurant, and food is central to the story. Each chapter begins with a menu that anticipates what the characters will consume, and food and drink are either being readied or eaten as most of the action unfolds.
The preparations are described in delicious detail -- the slow slice into a piece of raw tuna, the arranging of daikon -- but Power never keeps these pleasures simple. Instead, she constantly undermines them with graphic scenes that are sometimes violent, sometimes violating, and usually involve Mariane getting hammered.
The prose can be pointed and explicit, but it can just as easily roll into a steady stream of consciousness that gets inside the minds of these terribly lonely people.
Power reads with Jonathan Lethem at the Imperial Pub Monday (May 7). Check it out. This is a writer who is going to explode.
CRAWLING AT NIGHT by Nani Power (Publishers Group West), 233 pages, $37 cloth. Rating: NNNNN