hikikomori, n. hɪkikəˈmoʊri; literally pulling inward; refers to those who withdraw from society.
Inspired by the real-life Japanese social phenomenon called hikikomori and the professional “rental sisters” hired to help, Hikikomori and the Rental Sister is about an erotic relationship between Thomas, an American hikikomori, and Megumi, a young Japanese immigrant hiding from her own past. The strange, insular world they create together in a New York City bedroom and with the tacit acknowledgment of Thomas’s wife reveals three human hearts in crisis, but leaves us with a profound faith in the human capacity to find beauty and meaning in life, even after great sorrow. Mirroring both East and West in its search for healing, Hikikomori and the Rental Sister pierces the emotional walls of grief and delves into the power of human connection to break through to the world waiting outside.
Named an Indie Next pick, an Amazon Best Book of the Month, one of Book Riot’s 5 to Watch, and an iBookstore Editor’s Choice, this acclaimed novel
is now in paperback.
Amazon Best Books of the Month, January 2013: The Japanese term hikikomori is hard to track down in American dictionaries: It means a complete withdrawal from society, often following an acute trauma. You wouldn’t think a novel about this alienating concept would inspire empathy, but Jeff Backhaus’s intimate and moving portrait of a man hiding away from the world will wholly suck you in. After the death of his young son in a careless accident, Thomas disappears into his bedroom for three years. Desperate to bring him back, his wife hires Megumi, a young Japanese woman, to serve as a "rental sister," hoping that her personal experience with Thomas's affliction will help them establish a bond. The relationship that unfolds between Thomas and Megumi is extraordinary, rendered with quiet beauty, anger, and a deep sensuality. It’s nearly impossible to believe that this heartbreaking novel is a debut--we should all keep a selfish eye on Jeff Backhaus, lest he retreat too far into his own head and stop sharing his talent with the rest of us. --Mia Lipman