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Ransom (1985)

by Jay McInerney

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392848,337 (3.06)4
Living in Kyoto, the ancient capital of Japan, Christopher Ransom seeks a purity and simplicity he could not find at home, and tries to exorcise the terror he encountered earlier in his travels - a blur of violence and death at the Khyber Pass. Supporting himself by teaching English to eager Japanese businessmen, Ransom feels safe amongst his fellow expatriates. But soon he is threatened by everything he thought he had left behind, in a sequence of bizarre events whose consequences he cannot escape ...… (more)
1980s (207)
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Showing 1-5 of 8 (next | show all)
Ransom is the name of a young man, Chris Ransom, living in Japan at the start of this novel. Having traveled in several other eastern countries, Ransom decides to stick it in Japan for a while, teaching English. His days are spent mostly on this work; nights and weekends are devoted to the study of karate. Karate, in fact, defines his life.

Initially, the book seemed lightweight. Funny, intelligent, a bit of a curiosity. It is set in the 1970s, which I suspect were years that McInerney himself does not remember well. Too young. But he's done his homework. At least this work convinces me that he did.

Ransom is a principled young man. He's the son of a successful television producer and director, whom he considers at best a sell-out. His father's repeated entreaties to return to the fold are met with deaf ears and eventually no response at all. Rather, Ransom is apparently happy to live a simple life in a primitive apartment, making very little money and rarely spending it on anything that gives him pleasure.

For he harbors a dark memory. He feels responsible for the loss of two friends he traveled with. The facts don't fully indict him, except as perhaps enabler. But he clearly carries the guilt with him everywhere. Karate gives him a kind of release through its pain and discipline. He even comes to think of it as a way to know himself, a way through. Or at least he hopes it may become so.

Then come the challenges. From different places. A young woman wants his help. Another western young man feels wronged by Ransom and wants to have it out with him, physically. Ransom tries to help the woman, tries to ignore the man.

The further I got into the book the more serious I found it. Until the very end, a stunner, yet perhaps I should have expected it. ( )
  slojudy | Sep 8, 2020 |
martial arts student in Japan seeks atonement thru discipline for tragic loss os friends in Afgan drug deal
  ritaer | Apr 15, 2020 |
This novel did fall prey to the sophomore slump, as far as McInerney was trying to distance himself from his first novel. The humor is still there, and I enjoyed the balance he made of the divide in Japan between the past and the modern, if there is anything wrong with the novel - it is that too much reliance is put onto the mysterious.

The last third of the book is a twist, but not an unfair one. I wouldn't say there were hints as to what was coming but I don't think any of the characters acted out of bounds of their behavior.

I would agree though, that only big fans of McInerney's work should read this novel as he has better to offer. ( )
  ManWithAnAgenda | Feb 18, 2019 |



I read this novel set in Kyoto, Japan featuring 26-year old American Christopher Ransom and his practice of martial arts three time when first published as part of the Vintage Contemporary series back in 1988 and I just did read it yet again. Why do I find this book so absolutely fascinating? On reflection, here are a dozen reasons:

Mishima-like Purity
Yukio Mishama’s novel “Runaway Horses” takes place in 1932 and features I9-year old Isao Iinuma who seeks purity through the code of the samurai and his practice of martial arts. Eventually, in the name of purity, Isao commits seppuku (ritual suicide). McInerney’s main character Ransom (he doesn’t use Christopher since he hates the name) in many ways seeks a similar purity and transcendence, a purity separating himself from everyone and everything. Being a Westerner and living in a commercialized, homogenized, media-obsessed 1977 world culture makes Ransom’s quest a study in stark contrasts.

The Power of Dad
More than anything else, Ransom wants to separate himself from the secret schemes and theatrical power plays devised by his father in an attempt to manipulate his life. Meanwhile, his dad, Christopher Ransom Sr. (the big reason Ransom hates the name Christopher) tells his son directly, “You needs a certain kind of knowledge and power working for you.” Ransom doesn’t buy any of it since he sees his father as a serious artist and playwright who sold out to become a rich, big-time Hollywood producer of crap TV shows.

The Way of the Martial Artist
Ransom considered joining a Zen temple but found something even better – an impressive sensei running a karate dojo. Ransom believed he would become a different person if he kept training in karate under his sensei, that he could achieve self-mastery that would, among other benefits, reduce the complexity of his interacting with others. However, as it turned out, this sensei was one tough cookie, holding practice out on an asphalt parking lot, allowing kicks and punches to the head and insisting that a follower of the martial arts never break off an attack, no matter how weak or injured his opponent.

The Monk as Martial Artist
Ransom particularly admires Ito, the top student in the dojo, a karate student he sees as having the demeanor of a monk on Quaaludes, that is, as someone capable of always resting in his own peaceful center even when engaging in martial combat. By Ransom’s eye, Ito the monk moves like a cat floating on air and embodies greater possibilities than simply a champion excelling in a sport.

The Shadow Side of Martial Arts
Big, bulky Oklahoma born and bred Frank DeVito, ex-Marine, current Bruce Lee clone, needs combat for self-definition; as he observes: everything is real and alive when you are fighting. Not surprisingly, DeVito labels nearly everybody he sees, including Ransom, as prime enemies who must be conquered and destroyed. To his credit, Jay McInerney portrays Frank DeVito not only as the prototypical ugly American but also as a fully rounded character. Reading about Frank’s lowlife is a highlight of the story.

East meets West
Ransom’s friend Miles sells cowboy hat and cowboy boots and other American West paraphernalia to the Japanese, who can’t get enough of imitating American culture, even things like singing American jazz and American blues with a Japanese accent. This is one of the more humorous aspects of Jay’s novel. And there are a number of cultural zingers, as in when Ransom spots a photo of his Japanese taxi driver with his arm around a prize American he once game a ride in his taxi. And whose face did Ransom see in the photo? As Ransom tells us with wry humor: “There he is, Jack Nicklaus, a baby-faced god and credit to his race.”

Femme Fatale, sort of
Meet Marilyn, ravishing young lady and nightclub singer fresh from Vietnam, a lady tangled up with the Japanese mafia and in need of some serious help. Marilyn turns to Ransom, a man who can’t stand to see a damsel in distress, particularly when her distress could impact his friend Miles.

English for the Japanese
Ransom’s part-time job is teaching English to Japanese businessmen. The book is filled with American English rendered in tawdry Japanese, as in the writing on a high-end fashion shopping bag printed to resemble an English dictionary definition: “FUNKY BABE: Let’s call a funky girl “Funky Babe.” Girl, open-minded, know how to swing. Love to feel everything rather than think. They must all be nice girls.” Enough to drive a seeker of purity to drink, if that seeker drinks. Ransom usually does not.

Heartbreak on the Pakistan Border
4 of the book’s 31 chapters are set in 1975 Pakistan where Ransom is traveling with two fellow Westerners, one of which is Annette, a remarkably alive, dreamy blonde young French lady who picked up an addiction to heroin. And the more Annette spirals down into self-destruction as a junky, the more Ransom’s heart breaks. This Pakistan tragedy adds real depth of feeling to Ransom’s life unfolding in Japan.

Friendship on the Pakistan Border
The other Westerner forming this Pakistan threesome is Ransom’s friend, a delightful, happy-go-lucky young man by the name of Ian. Ian is a bold adventurer and travels solo into dangerous terrain to score some great dope and a part of Ransom travels with him. Again, the unfolding drama in Pakistan adds much depth.

Language and Rhythm
The language is crisp and clear; the sentences snap off like a string of Japanese firecrackers, which makes for a very pleasurable, entertaining read. This quality of Jay’s writing makes sense since the author honed his craft under the tutelage of the late 20th century master of crisp and clear - Raymond Carver.

Twists Both Unexpected and Expected
Yes, the story is filled with twists, both unexpected and expected – expected in the sense that at one point Ransom acknowledges: “Some things wouldn’t go away unless you face them head—on.” Sound like a dose of Eastern fatalism? You bet it does. Read all about it. ( )
  Glenn_Russell | Nov 13, 2018 |
FINAL REVIEW

I read this novel set in Kyoto, Japan featuring 26-year old American Christopher Ransom and his practice of martial arts three time when first published as part of the Vintage Contemporary series back in 1988 and I just did read it yet again. Why do I find this book so absolutely fascinating? On reflection, here are a dozen reasons:

Mishima-like Purity
Yukio Mishama’s novel “Runaway Horses” takes place in 1932 and features I9-year old Isao Iinuma who seeks purity through the code of the samurai and his practice of martial arts. Eventually, in the name of purity, Isao commits seppuku (ritual suicide). McInerney’s main character Ransom (he doesn’t use Christopher since he hates the name) in many ways seeks a similar purity and transcendence, a purity separating himself from everyone and everything. Being a Westerner and living in a commercialized, homogenized, media-obsessed 1977 world culture makes Ransom’s quest a study in stark contrasts.

The Power of Dad
More than anything else, Ransom wants to separate himself from the secret schemes and theatrical power plays devised by his father in an attempt to manipulate his life. Meanwhile, his dad, Christopher Ransom Sr. (the big reason Ransom hates the name Christopher) tells his son directly, “You needs a certain kind of knowledge and power working for you.” Ransom doesn’t buy any of it since he sees his father as a serious artist and playwright who sold out to become a rich, big-time Hollywood producer of crap TV shows.

The Way of the Martial Artist
Ransom considered joining a Zen temple but found something even better – an impressive sensei running a karate dojo. Ransom believed he would become a different person if he kept training in karate under his sensei, that he could achieve self-mastery that would, among other benefits, reduce the complexity of his interacting with others. However, as it turned out, this sensei was one tough cookie, holding practice out on an asphalt parking lot, allowing kicks and punches to the head and insisting that a follower of the martial arts never break off an attack, no matter how weak or injured his opponent.

The Monk as Martial Artist
Ransom particularly admires Ito, the top student in the dojo, a karate student he sees as having the demeanor of a monk on Quaaludes, that is, as someone capable of always resting in his own peaceful center even when engaging in martial combat. By Ransom’s eye, Ito the monk moves like a cat floating on air and embodies greater possibilities than simply a champion excelling in a sport.

The Shadow Side of Martial Arts
Big, bulky Oklahoma born and bred Frank DeVito, ex-Marine, current Bruce Lee clone, needs combat for self-definition; as he observes: everything is real and alive when you are fighting. Not surprisingly, DeVito labels nearly everybody he sees, including Ransom, as prime enemies who must be conquered and destroyed. To his credit, Jay McInerney portrays Frank DeVito not only as the prototypical ugly American but also as a fully rounded character. Reading about Frank’s lowlife is a highlight of the story.

East meets West
Ransom’s friend Miles sells cowboy hat and cowboy boots and other American West paraphernalia to the Japanese, who can’t get enough of imitating American culture, even things like singing American jazz and American blues with a Japanese accent. This is one of the more humorous aspects of Jay’s novel. And there are a number of cultural zingers, as in when Ransom spots a photo of his Japanese taxi driver with his arm around a prize American he once game a ride in his taxi. And whose face did Ransom see in the photo? As Ransom tells us with wry humor: “There he is, Jack Nicklaus, a baby-faced god and credit to his race.”

Femme Fatale, sort of
Meet Marilyn, ravishing young lady and nightclub singer fresh from Viet Nam, a lady tangled up with the Japanese mafia and in need of some serious help. Marilyn turns to Ransom, a man who can’t stand to see a damsel in distress, particularly when her distress could impact his friend Miles.

English for the Japanese
Ransom’s part-time job is teaching English to Japanese businessmen. The book is filled with American English rendered in tawdry Japanese, as in the writing on a high-end fashion shopping bag printed to resemble an English dictionary definition: “FUNKY BABE: Let’s call a funky girl “Funky Babe.” Girl, open-minded, know how to swing. Love to feel everything rather than think. They must all be nice girls.” Enough to drive a seeker of purity to drink, if that seeker drinks. Ransom usually does not.

Heartbreak on the Pakistan Border
4 of the book’s 31 chapters are set in 1975 Pakistan where Ransom is traveling with two fellow Westerners, one of which is Annette, a remarkably alive, dreamy blonde young French lady who picked up an addiction to heroin. And the more Annette spirals down into self-destruction as a junky, the more Ransom’s heart breaks. This Pakistan tragedy adds real depth of feeling to Ransom’s life unfolding in Japan.

Friendship on the Pakistan Border
The other Westerner forming this Pakistan threesome is Ransom’s friend, a delightful, happy-go-lucky young man by the name of Ian. Ian is a bold adventurer and travels solo into dangerous terrain to score some great dope and a part of Ransom travels with him. Again, the unfolding drama in Pakistan adds much depth.

Language and Rhythm
The language is crisp and clear; the sentences snap off like a string of Japanese firecrackers, which makes for a very pleasurable, entertaining read. This quality of Jay’s writing makes sense since the author honed his craft under the tutelage of the late 20th century master of crisp and clear - Raymond Carver.

Twists Both Unexpected and Expected
Yes, the story is filled with twists, both unexpected and expected – expected in the sense that at one point Ransom acknowledges: “Some things wouldn’t go away unless you face them head—on.” Sound like a dose of Eastern fatalism? You bet it does. Read all about it.




( )
  GlennRussell | Feb 16, 2017 |
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When Christopher Ransom opened his eyes he was on his back, looking up into a huddle of Japanese faces shimmering in a pool of artificial light.
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Living in Kyoto, the ancient capital of Japan, Christopher Ransom seeks a purity and simplicity he could not find at home, and tries to exorcise the terror he encountered earlier in his travels - a blur of violence and death at the Khyber Pass. Supporting himself by teaching English to eager Japanese businessmen, Ransom feels safe amongst his fellow expatriates. But soon he is threatened by everything he thought he had left behind, in a sequence of bizarre events whose consequences he cannot escape ...

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