SARAH LOHMANN WRITES — With its long legs and winding neck, the heron wades through the water, searching for fish to spear with its beak. The bird can symbolize patience, peacefulness, and opportunity in literature. However, in The Heron Catchers, AMI-beloved author and ex-pat in Japan, David Joiner, clarifies that coming too close to symbols of peace can sometimes be dangerous.
The Heron Catchers follows Sedge—a foreigner living in modern-day Japan—in the wake of his marriage’s dissolution. After his Japanese wife abandons him, his in-laws offer a lifeline at their inn until he can get back on his feet. This arrangement becomes tumultuous, though, as his place in their family falls further into question. Eventually, he becomes involved with Mariko, the wife of the man his own wife ran off with. Sedge also comes to know Mariko’s stepson Riku, a troubled 16-year-old whose jealousy and potential for violence contrast with his interest in birds, origami, and poetry. The three of them wade through their grief, deciphering where their suffering ends and that of others begins. The novel is forthcoming, expected to be released in November 2023.
Joiner made his first trip to Japan in 1991, and he has most recently called the western city of Kanazawa home. His writing has appeared in numerous publications, including Echoes: Writers in Kyoto 2017, The Brooklyn Rail, and The Ontario Review.
Among the major themes in The Heron Catchers are suffering and grief. Sedge and Mariko are invariably connected: their chords of trauma and uncertainty interwoven. Sedge works to understand and empathize with others, and, despite this, those in his life repeatedly ask that he do more, insisting that he does not (or cannot) understand the suffering of those around him. This begs the question: is what we do more important or how it is perceived?
Additionally, Sedge and Mariko must grapple with how much they are willing to forgive—for the sake of those betrayers and of themselves. On the other hand, Riku sorts through the tangle of emotions left in the wake of mistreatment and unkindness by his absent father. Unable to decipher when and where to place blame—if it is to be placed at all—he made paper cranes. Mariko explains to Sedge: “‘[He] told me later making the cranes had taught him something. When I asked him what, he said that for some people the cranes meant nothing at all. But for others, they made a difference in his relationship with them; they made forgiveness easier.’”
The Heron Catchers is for anyone looking to investigate the complexities of love and the limits of forgiveness. The novel shows how we navigate day-to-day relationships and responsibilities despite the weight of our private lives. It reminds us that everyone must strike this balance, and we may not know what is going on under the surface. In other words, what appears to be a peaceful heron may indeed be something sharper.
Sarah Lohmann graduated from Knox College with a BA in Creative Writing and Asian Studies, where their research focused on film, translation, and literature.
Edited by executive editor, Ella Kelleher.