Book review: The Heron Catchers is a slow look at infidelity in a picturesque Japanese town

The Heron Catchers

By David Joiner
Fiction/Stone Bridge Press/Paperback/264 pages/$33.60/Amazon SG (
3 stars

The last place Sedge expected to find comfort is with Mariko, the wife of the man who ran off with his own wife, Nozomi.

Reeling from the pain, he takes residence with his brother-in-law Takahashi and his spouse Yuki in Kanazawa, and begins to navigate the tricky terrain of healing and finding his purpose once again.

The picturesque small town provides the perfect backdrop for contemplation and personal growth.

Sprinkled throughout the novel are mentions of Japanese history, pottery and poetry, which add a needed depth to the story.

American author David Joiner is skilled in creating the lush environment and using Japanese terms without alienating the reader.

His own years of experience living in Hokkaido, Sapporo, Akita, Fukui, Tokyo and, most recently, Kanazawa paint a personal and realistic image of what it is like for an American man to live among the Japanese.

The casualness of the infidelity is jarring, though it lines up with the less publicised Japanese culture where men are often still able to get away with cheating and abuse due to societal norms.

Koichi (Mariko’s husband) and Takahashi’s extramarital affairs are treated like expected trysts.

Sedge recalls a conversation with Nozomi: “Apparently, Yuki knew nothing about it, which is surprising since his trysts had always involved their staff, none of whom remained working for them. For a while he convinced Nozomi that he’d changed. But a year ago he’d admitted to two new affairs.”

Stigmas around mental illness and behavioural issues are prevalent as the characters whisper about Mariko’s stepson, Riku.

The understandable trauma he experiences after being abandoned first by his mother and multiple times by an adulterous, abusive father leaves uncomfortable issues for Sedge and Mariko to deal with.

However, where Mariko may be overly permissive, her love for Riku is apparent and her parenting efforts are commendable.

Sedge, meanwhile, makes his selfishness clear as he makes no effort with Riku while expecting the traumatised boy to change and grow.

Uncomfortable as it may be, the novel does a fair job of highlighting the issues that foreigners often do not see of Japanese culture.

The multi-page reasoning for the affair, when revealed, feels too philosophical and convoluted to be taken seriously. Rather, it gives the impression that the author struggled to convey the real cause, burying it under excuses that ultimately amount to nothing.

Without a true sense of whether Sedge went through real character growth or merely found a new relationship with Mariko, one does wonder if the most deep-seated conflict is Sedge’s inability to properly process his emotions.

If you like this, read: The Perfect Marriage by Jeneva Rose (Bloodhound Books, 2020, $23.57, Amazon SG, go to Sarah Morgan is a highly successful lawyer with a perfect life, but everything unravels when her husband is accused of murdering his mistress.

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