Karen Karbo
May 23, 2005 AT 04:00 AM EDT

Snakes and Earrings created a huge stir when it was published in Japan, winning the country’s most prestigious literary award for Hitomi Kanehara, then 20. But for American readers raised on Less Than Zero, the debut novel (translated by David Karashima) is pretty standard fare. Nineteen-year-old Lui (for Louis Vuitton) meets and shacks up with the fork-tongued Ama in Tokyo. She then sets out to split her own tongue, first by piercing, eventually by cutting. Like rebels without a cause the world over, Lui revels in her aimlessness. She trades sex for a splashy tattoo, contemplates suicide by starvation, witnesses a murder. While not particularly original, Lui’s sexy nihilism is riveting in that can’t-look-away-from-a-car-wreck manner, and Kanehara delivers an ending that’s both chilling and oddly moving.

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