For anyone who's read author Koji Suzuki's Ringu (or seen the pretty close 1998 film adaptation by Hideo Nakata), you'll know that the author is less concerned with jolting you using sudden shocks or abrupt, violent scenarios; instead, Suzuki has a thing for gradually tilting the world for his characters and the reader, shifting the rules ever so slightly so that the certainties of our science can no longer be trusted. In the past, he's wanted to scare us by describing (often in great detail) how the natural world can break down and become hostile to us.
Vertical recently published his 2008 novel, Edge, which sees the author at his most instructive, the book acting at times as a brief(ish) treatise on nothing so much as the history since the Big Bang, the evolution of mankind, the fragility of our math, and all tied into the abrupt disappearance of a suburban Japanese family. As apocalypses go, this is an inventive one, and although Edge won't have you leaving the lights on out of fear of the dark, Suzuki's novel (which mixes that genre with sci-fi, journalism, and a little bit of reality TV) will probably have you keeping the lights on picking through some of the works in his extensively-sourced bibliography.
Edge does kick off with an alarming setup in a Nevada desert which starts with an abandoned car and ends with a German tourist's unfortunate encounter with a mysterious presence. From there, the story bounces from a Maui observatory where astronomers observe with alarm the abrupt dimming of distance stars while elsewhere, mathematicians grapple with the impossibility of the value of pi resolving itself to zeroes at the 500 billionth decimal place (as we're told several times, part of the intrigue of pi is the lack of repetition in its decimal places).
These disruptions in the scientific world take a backseat as the story shifts to Tokyo and journalist Saeko Kuriyama, in her mid-30's, not-so-recently divorced, and still hung up over the mysterious disappearance of her father 18 years earlier. Saeko had an exceptionally close bond with the elder Kuriyama, and after he seemed to vanish into thin air when she was a high school student, she's been arrested in a state of loneliness and obsession.
So of course, she's the perfect candidate to perform an investigation into the similarly sudden disappearance of the four members of the Fujimura family--husband, wife, son, and daughter--seemingly into thing air. Saeko's keen mind, developed thanks to years of her father prodding her academic development, don't immediately yield any answers to the Fujimura's vanishing act, but slowly start drawing the action in Japan with the stars' blinkering, the value of pi, and abandoned cars in Nevada.
Suzuki can be a chilly writer at times, and even the most in-depth dissection of a character's internal monologues has the feeling of reportage, sapping some of the emotional power from the book. It's not entirely accurate to call Edge a horror novel so much as a sci-fi novel that tips over into horror. The book echoes Lovecraft's terror of geometry that just doesn't quite line up, or more recently, Mark Z. Danielewski's The House of Leaves which drew its horror from a house which was bigger on the outside than it appeared. Suzuki's central question is: what would happen if the math that governed the operation of the universe simply stopped adding up.
Looking at the human element, there's a deep loneliness shared between the major characters: Saeko who can't connect with anyone and is beginning to fear dying alone; elderly psychic Shigeko Torii, whose ability to divine secrets of the past came years earlier from the tragic death of her only son; and the kind of desperate, possibly dangerous loneliness of someone like Seiji Fujimura, brother to the Fujimura husband, a black sheep and source of a strange sort of menace for Saeko.
His heroine is a challenging character to get behind, in large part because of how cold and disconnected she comes off in the early reading, her internal monologue dissecting the recent trauma of her divorce like some kind of science problem. This is alleviated as time goes on after we learn that this was the kind of personal inquiry that was encouraged by her father, but I'm not sure if Suzuki sees Saeko's distance from her own life as a deficit or a credit. Saeko's initial emotional chilliness isn't an issue in and of itself, but she does feel fully formed (even her daddy issues are sorted as an issue of self analysis and her own investigation of the plot), in a way that doesn't allow much room for growth in the story.
If the ideas of the book are intriguing, the ending is reach with promise albeit promise undercut by a baffling introduction of the perfectly asymmetrical conflict between god and the devil (I think) near the closing pages. Part of the problem is rooted in the structure of the book, which spends most of its time elaborating on the disappearances and serving as a layman's instruction on physics, evolution, and math before rushing through the big "why" of it all in the last quarter or so. Specifically, there's a meaty stretch at the end where a flamboyant Japanese scientist spends several pages arguing and then counter-arguing his own arguments against what's happening to a roomful of half-drunk, panicked men ("if x, then y will happen, but wouldn't it be fascinating if z, and also, we're all going to die"). Edge spends a lot of time breaking down the problem of the disintegration of the biding natural laws, to the extent that the hypotheses and counter-hypotheses delivered as lengthy lectures and interrogations between characters threaten to tip the narrative into conjectural physics fanfic. A possible drinking game: take a shot anytime one character tells another to "Think about it" before launching into an extended monologue behind the scientific principles behind the plot.
Then there's the baffling ending: what had seemed to resolve itself into a science-minded existential terror is muddled by both paradox and a large dose of the supernatural. Suzuki's not cheating here, exactly, as god and the devil come up throughout the work (but solely in the most distant, hypothetical way). As smart as Edge is throughout, the ending feels like a betrayal of the steady slide into the kind of thrillingly articulated end of days that Suzuki sets up throughout the rest of the book.
Edge is available now in hardcover from Vertical Inc.