Women - twisted, obsessive and inquisitive women - are the narrators of "The Diving Pool" (Picador, $13), three novellas by Yoko Ogawa who explore and indulge in their dark sides without apology.
Sparse and direct prose creates delicious suspense throughout each story, with Yoko Ogawa tapping so swiftly and unexpectedly into the women's psyches that the reader is often caught off-guard.
Her characters' agitated thoughts don't always cross the line but maybe flirt with it, which make the stories even more tempting: Will she? Won't she?
The author describes how a teenage protagonist torments a young orphan, frustrated that her parents pay more attention to their adopted children than their biological child. The teen also wrestles with a lust she has developed for her stepbrother, and the guilt that ensues when she lets those feelings overwhelm her.
In the second story, a woman describes how her sister's mysterious pregnancy and mood swings alter her own life. A growing frustration leads the woman to prepare a snack, possibly a tainted one, for her sister. The story drips with raw and sensual description, to the point that even mundane things, such as cooking a grapefruit, seem like a violent act.
The last story is perhaps the most innocent and possibly the least gratifying once the mystery is unveiled. A woman investigates the disappearance of a student after getting a call from a long-lost cousin who moves into the same apartment complex in which she lived while in college.
Boredom drives part of her obsession. The woman runs out of quilting ideas, and her husband, who was transferred to Sweden, keeps sending her to-do lists: "Gather up as much nonperishable Japanese food as possible. (I'm beginning to get tired of the salty, tasteless food here.)"
Ogawa, a Japanese author, has published more than 20 stories since 1988, but few have been translated into English and shared with readers in the United States. She succeeds at making the reader squirm in these three novellas. You feel like you are standing so close to these characters that their disturbing musings might rub off on you.