By Michael Antman
Reviewed by Joan Jones
Cherry Whip, a tale of a young Japanese jazz musician who, although he is a genius at the clarinet, is awkward, obsessive and slightly eccentric as a person. The novel takes its title from a cherry whip candy, purchased at the beginning of the story by the main character, Hiroshi. The fact that the cherry whip candy is put into his pocket and forgotten, only to melt into a gooey mess which ruins his trousers and embarrasses him, is a fitting symbol of Hiroshi’s comic-tragic experiences in this witty novel.
Hiroshi arrives in New York brimming with excitement and enthusiasm to perform and to teach a musical class. He naively revels in the new experiences he finds. However, underneath the excitement, Hiroshi is also very self-conscious and filled with doubts about himself. From the moment he sets out, he finds adversity, most of it self-inflicted. Much of the story takes place through Hiroshi’s thoughts and we see life as Hiroshi sees it. When he collapses with a mysterious neurological illness that lands him in the hospital unable to move for weeks, the inner world of Hiroshi really takes center stage.
While these events might suggest a bleak or gloomy story about a pathetic character, Cherry Whip is anything but that. Hiroshi’s thoughts and observations often take a clever and humorous turn.
Hiroshi’s affliction strips him of the one thing he is really good at, his music. It leaves him with only awkward relationships with his over-bearing father, his distant girlfriend in Japan who becomes more distant as the story moves along, and Maureen, his love-interest in America, which is the ultimate in awkward cultural misunderstanding. During his illness he even delves into his history with his long-dead sister and how this tragic even was a formative one in his life.
Cherry Whip offers a terrific and fascinating character study of Hiroshi, whose self-doubt causes him to overanalyze every action and word of everyone he meets. We can see that the very traits that make him such an awkward human being, his obsessive, over-analyzing fixation on the details of life and the people around him, are the very traits that also made him a great jazz musician in the first place.
Cherry Whip is a relatively quick read at just over 200 pages but it is a true page turner. I found myself caring about Hiroshi, feeling sympathy for him and rooting for him to solve his problems and come out victorious on the other side. Throughout the book, Hiroshi fights his personal demons and the question of whether or not he will conquer them is what made me keep reading.
I suspect many readers will also sympathize with Hiroshi and may even have a little of Hiroshi inside them as well.
This is Michael Antman’s first novel and I look forward to many more