The Human Chair / 人間椅子

A second Ranpo story, to go with the first! I had known there was something about this story, but I had no idea what. It wasn't as bad as I thought, but... it was still freaky.

Yoshiko, a successful writer, always reads her fan mail, even though she finds it a bit of a chore. One day, in addition to the usual couple of letters, Yoshiko receives a large envelope in the mail. She initially thinks it's a manuscript from a fan, which she receives not infrequently, and doesn't want to read it (although she'll at least peak at the title and beginning), but opens it to discover that it is instead an extremely long letter. The writer of the letter claims to be a hideously deformed chair-maker  whom Yoshiko does not know, but assures Yoshiko that she will understand why he wrote this letter to her by the end of it and essentially begins to tell his life story.

The bulk of the story consists of the body of the letter, and I won't summarize further because this is already a short story and I don't want to give too much away, and, unlike The Psychological Test, the value of this story is in the journey of reading it rather than the resolution.

The title "The Human Chair" naturally suggests certain... grotesque possibilities. While this is essentially a psychological horror story, it thankfully does not even approach some of the grimmest scenarios. It does not take too long into the story to find out exactly what "The Human Chair" is, and once you do, there is only one major question left. The Human Chair is certainly freaky, but ends on sort of a fake-out that makes everything okay. Which I liked. Which is also kind of silly, since it's all fictional anyway.

The ending is also quite cleverly foreshadowed early in the story, which helps provide an explanation for why everything happened. Even though this isn't an actual mystery story, it still has the clever crafting of a mystery writer.

At one point there's a discussion of a possible way to carry out a crime. This struck at me, since while most mysteries, or rather, stories that deal with crimes follow the person trying to find the criminal, both this and The Psychological Test, the only other Ranpo story I have read, have unabashedly presented the scenario from the criminal's point of view. But a discussion is the closest The Human Chair ever comes to a mystery.

Anyway, The Human Chair is a short, interesting story. It's not a mystery, so I don't know exactly what significance it holds, but if you like psychological horror or just want to experience all of Ranpo, it's worth a read.

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