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The fantastic is a genre between. In the zone that separates life and death, dream and waking life, it offers a playful promise—or threat—of an experience beyond the limited efficacies of fiction: a story that can shift the terms of the world and perhaps even hurt you. Koji Suzuki launched a resonant modern iteration when his novel Ring was published in Japan in 1991. Since then, variations on his tale of a cursed videocassette with the power to kill its viewers have mutated across continents and through films, manga, TV series, and a computer game. The boldest twist of Spiral, the second book in the Ring trilogy, is to anticipate this media contagion. Sadako, the vengeful spirit whose cryptic life fragments infect the video, turns out to be Scheherazade in reverse: She has but a single tale to tell—her own—but 1,001 possible venues.
Spiral‘s principal pleasure lies in the invention with which Suzuki works variations on the motifs of the original novel. Even as the English word ring fluctuates between noun and verb, so both a videotape and a virus occupy “a point between the animate and the inanimate”—they need humans in order to reproduce. And indeed, it turns out that exposure to the images infects the body with a virus looking remarkably like a wedding ring, which performs its own alchemic marriage of opposites. The viewer is impregnated with the storyteller herself: a hermaphrodite.
Sadako’s media empire stretches beyond tape to claim the first book as well: Its text also carries her disease. The claims this conceit makes for Suzuki’s prose (characters find the locations and characters of Ring imprinted on their minds with “absolute fidelity”) seem sadly overstated on the evidence of these translations. But no doubt function trumps beauty in a diseased hierarchy of values. Those afflicted are sure to be impatient for the concluding turn: Loop, due out next year.