Now You’re One of Us, a thriller new in paperback from bestselling Japanese novelist Asa Nonami (and translated into English by Michael Volek and Mitsuko Volek), starts off so strong. Against her mother’s wishes, attractive if somewhat naive young Noriko has just married the eldest son in a strange family that lives in a large house and grows odd plants on a small property in a Tokyo suburb. When she met Kazuhito, “it was love at first sight. His voice, his smile, his tanned arms — she liked it all.” On that first meeting, Kazuhito promised Noriko that his kinfolk were masters of familial concordance: “I’ll dispel your worries,” he assured her, that day. “If you don’t like something, my family will make it our mission to fix it.” Okay, so she meets the folks — and the grandfolks, and the sage-like great-grandma, and the mentally disabled brother and the perky younger sister, and they win her over. They praise her; they’re always grinning and going about their chores happily. “We all love flowers,” Kazuhito tells Noriko in a typical moment, reinforcing the sense that everything the Shito family does and feels, it does and feels in perfect unison.
A surreal Stepford Wives-ish smiliness pervades the first half of this book, becoming increasingly suspect as odd happenings unfold: a neighboring house burns to the ground, killing everyone inside. Noriko overhears secret conversations between family members late at night, when they think she isn’t listening.
Trouble gets into high gear when the family finds out that Noriko’s starting to wonder about them. At this point, the author spins scenes of such tension and creepiness that the book becomes a serious page-turner. It’s the classic conundrum: Is the new bride onto something sinister? Or is she imagining everything? Also: If she’s not imagining it, then what IS it? Thereby hangs the tale. Nonami’s denouement will disappoint some, but those keen scenes in the is-she-isn’t-she sections make the whole ride worthwhile.