Oe Kenzaburo's Nobel-prize-winning literary workThe Pinch Runner Memorandum explores a Japanese father's relationship with his retarded son. The work is autobiographical because the author is in fact the father of a mentally handicapped child and knows the trials and tribulations of that role firsthand. Oe and his son, Hikari, do figure into the framework of the story, but The Pinch Runner Memorandum primarily unfolds the story, or dream, of a fictional father (called Mori-father ) and his fictitious son, Mori. The mentally retarded Mori featured in this work also appears in other works by the author. In addition to a sensitive exploration of the carefully wrought bond between a struggling father and his (as the father affectionately labels him) "idiot" son, Oe also uses this work as a forum in which to present his thoughts and comments on a wide range of social, political, legal, and moral issues.
In The Pinch Runner Memorandum a father essentially switches identities with his mentally retarded son, in a fashion similar to that of a batter and a pinch runner (a player designated to run for a batter who cannot run the bases due to injury) in a ball game. Once the switch is made, the father-son duo join forces to go after a corrupt politician, the Patron. The text switches between the protagonist's voice (Mori's father), the author/narrator (Oe) who writes himself in as the character of a ghostwriter, and a third voice. The third voice in the text expresses the thoughts of Mori, the "idiot" son, who communicates with his father (with whom he has exchanged identities) by a special grasping and joining of their hands. The text also moves around in time, between the pre- and post-switchover circumstances of Mori-father, his wife, and son.
The ghostwriter, or Hikari-father (the Japanese language construction for the father of Hikari), encounters Mori-father at a baseball game in a sandlot. The fathers, who are former university classmates, are waiting to pick up their sons from school. Mori-father is a former nuclear power plant engineer. Each father has a mentally retarded son. The fathers are painfully and constantly aware of how disenfranchised their children are by a society that praises conformity to certain standards and demands mental and physical excellence. Mori-father asks Hikari-father to be his ghostwriter in a bizarre experience he anticipates undertaking with his son, Mori. Mori-father wants someone to chronicle, in a memorandum of sorts, the switchover that happens between him and his son and the political activism they undertake in their switched identities. Mori-father wants an objective record-keeper to insure proper documentation since he himself will be so intimately involved in the adventures that he might lose perspective.
The text chronicles the strange exchange of identities but also contains a dialogue between the ghostwriter and the narrator (Hikari-father and Mori-father). Mori-father was in an accident at a nuclear power plant. His exposure to radiation affected his chromosomes and led to his fathering a retarded child. One day, Mori-father brings his young son to the train station. They are to pick up a nuclear protest leader for a meeting. Mori wanders off. After hours of searching, Mori-father finds his son. At home, he beats Mori for wandering away. His wife intervenes. Mori-father realizes that Mori did not know any better and that it was cruel and thoughtless to beat him. Later, Mori-father suggests that some great cosmic force instigates a switchover, in which he and his son respectively lose and gain twenty years. One morning, Mori-father awakens in an 18-year old's body and Mori awakens in a 28-year-old's body. Mori-father insists that the switchover is not a mere dream but an actual experience. He thinks the switchover takes place so that he and his son can carry out a special political mission (the overthrow of the Patron). The switchover also creates a role reversal of sorts between father and son. Mori-father is the restless, impulsive younger brother figure to an older, calmer Mori.
Although they retain their fundamental pre-switchover spirits, or personalities, Mori-father and Mori have to adjust to their new physical forms and different maturity levels. Mori-father relishes his recaptured teen-age physical and emotional energy, while Mori settles into a newfound maturity and competence. Just prior to the switchover, Mori-father's wife, disgruntled by an affair Mori-father had with political activist Ono, walks out on her husband and retarded son. Distracted by the switchover and its effects on himself and his son, Mori-father pays little attention to his wife's desertion. She later betrays Mori-father by revealing the secret of the switchover to his enemies, which helps them to trace the father-son team. The switchover is still in effect in the final confrontation with the Patron, which takes place at the close of the novel. Mori, in a splendid, heroic display inflicts a death blow on the Patron, takes a satchel of the Patron's "dirty" money, and jumps with it into the fires burning outside his residence. Mori-father is captured by the police but witnesses his formerly oppressed and disenfranchised "idiot" son's heroic leap into the flames.