Friday, January 20, 2012

Lost in Murakami

Posted By on 01.20.12 at 05:30 PM

1Q84_jacket.jpg
I’m probably the last of the rabid Haruki Murakami fans to be forming an opinion on 1Q84. More industrious Murakami readers will chasten me for reaching that opinion too late—the book came out back in October, after all—or too soon—I’m not even halfway done.

But still, having muscled through 800 pages of what’s 1,800 pages on the iPad (that’s twice as many pages as the hardcover edition, true, but plenty of words on which to form an opinion), I’m as perplexed as a modern Japanese antihero whose woman wordlessly left him. Either 1Q84 is a masterpiece waiting (for me to read faster) to happen, or there’s been an awful lot of Nobel Prize hype for something that might, on a conceptual level, be the culmination of Murakami’s mind-boggling body of work, but is still clunkier than almost all of his preceding novels when it comes to things like language, character, and plot.

Let me say that I’m the kind of person who’s predisposed to like Murakami and I’m perfectly OK with that. One night, following a series of odd coincidences that befell me on a trip to New York, a friend and I ended up at a party where I kept running into people I knew from different points in my life, people who didn’t even know each other and barely knew the host. All the lights were off in the cavernous space and people were dancing, most of them wearing dark clothes which made them difficult to see (except for the woman wearing black tights and white shorts, who ended up looking like a disembodied dancing ass). One of the formless figures gathered up in front of me and deadpanned, “I bet you’re really into The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle.”

The strange stranger was right. That was the first Murakami I’d read, years earlier—after which I holed up and immediately read three more. What can I say? I’m a big fan of the slow start. And I appreciate the long, mundane slog that transitions effortlessly into the alternate reality no one questions.

Another thing: I’m fascinated with runaway cats. My childhood cat ran away (we promptly replaced her and gave the new cat the same name), and I once had a cat I was cat-sitting take off on me, never to return. Slightly tangential aside: my ex-boyfriend, who studied at Tufts when Murakami taught there, was asked by a Japanese friend and classmate to verbally deliver Murakami a message, in Japanese. Unbeknownst to the messenger, the phrase he recited to Murakami translated to, “I step on the black cat.”

I’m of course as intrigued as the next gal by yet another Murakami’s trademark: the intentionally vague, maybe-ominous-or-maybe-I’m-just-super-paranoid phone call. (Sadly, those have been all but replaced these days by similarly ambiguous text messages, which are far less menacingly urgent than a phone call, or at least a Murakami phone call.)

I even have experience with foreboding wells. I once lived in a ramshackle, 100-year-old house with—no joke—a fully operational well out front. Long before I read Wind-Up Bird, I found that well to be the source of endless contemplation.

Given all of that, why don’t I buy into the hype and just go ahead and declare my absolute adoration for 1Q84? In many ways, it’s the ideal Murakami novel. It certainly has the slow start and vague-but-creepy phone calls, not to mention a highly alternate reality. And what it lacks in disappearing cats and portal-like wells it makes up for with an exploding dog and a human-mouth-as-portal out of which the freakin' Little People emerge.

It has star-crossed (in this case moon-crossed?) lovers who I’m really hoping will connect soon but who I suspect might not. And I for one can’t help but obsess on tales of ill-fated soul mates who finally pass each other on the street yet can’t bring themselves to express their undying love, including the 1,400-word one (“On Seeing the 100 Percent Perfect Girl One Beautiful April Morning”) on which the 1,800-page (on my iPad at least) 1Q84 is kinda sorta based.

The best part is that the boy (Tengo?) in the short story knows the 100 Percent Perfect Girl isn’t perfect and he doesn’t care. He loves her no less. I hope, once I finish 1Q84, that I feel the same way about the 100 Percent Perfect Novel.

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