Tonight, I finished Haruki Murakami's NORWEGIAN WOOD. It's my second Murakami book (first being THE WIND-UP BIRD CHRONICLE) and I was surprised at how straight forward and brisk it was. I didn't realize that it was considered his blockbuster hit and most accessible, mainstream work but that didn't feel like a knock to me -- the surrealism of WIND-UP BIRD was a source of entertainment, but I didn't miss it in the books relentless push into the crevices of the heart. I wanted to say that this was "just a love story," but it's effective books like this that remind you that love stories are no small thing. When they're not just mandatory B-plots in suspense thrillers, they're as big as the world. They're life and death.
It's a fantastic read -- moving with unflourished, effortless prose, stock full of complex character histories, and a story that has a faint ring of death through out. The last 100 or so pages of any book are exciting because of the inertia; you know the end is near, and suddenly every passage is suspenseful, important ground. But disregarding this phenomenon, there was so much in that last third that determines the fates of these characters. It was almost unfair.
Even though I like it a lot, I have to acknowledge the heavy male-centric escapist fantasy going on. The protagonist Toru Watanabe is a guy with no obvious extraordinary personality traits except he's adopted a kind of CATCHER IN THE RYE laid back perpetual coolness. He speaks in short, frank sentences, but exudes a quiet untapped intelligence. As a result, nearly every woman throws themselves at him, he's constantly adored, but he does little to earn it (but rarely chases in.) It sounds worse when I type it out that way -- most of it isn't overbearing, and it's still enjoyable for readers of any gender, but it's hard to ignore that its engine relies on the yearnings, ego and angst of young men.
My reading of the book took away a lot about the echo of death. How it attaches to our lives and the lives of those around us -- Kizuki, Midori's father and the others -- and the different ways it curses or liberates. There's an argument in there about how this relationship, the line between life and death that we live along, makes death not the opposite, but an inescapable part of life. I'm afraid of ever really understanding this.
It's funny, a friend of mine a few years back asked me to read a novel he was working on, and one of the things I criticized was the 4 or 5 character deaths he had written in. It was a bit much for me. I said, "If you're going to kill this many characters, it better make me feel like it's the worst day of my life." As I closed the back cover and examined how I felt, NORWEGIAN WOOD comes close. If I let myself take a step back and look at the character tree and all those withered branches, it does seem like a bit much, but it works. It gets dour, but not hysterical, tragic but not weeping. The way the news is delivered and doled out is almost merciful and sweet.
I was at my local post-work coffee shop when I finished the book. Still living in the book's fog, I semi-randomly picked Still Life Still's "Burial Suit" to listen to on the ride home. The wiry guitar hook and heavy bass let me stay in the fog a little longer. It was a good pairing, the cheese to book's wine. If you've got a sunset drive, I'd recommend it to anyone:
The next stop on my shelf is THE GREAT GATSBY which I'm supposed to have read by now. Through some weird contortions of fate, I was always taking the courses that didn't assign the book. In fact, my teachers didn't assign very many classics to us. In AP English, I was busy trying to pick through BRAZZAVILLE BEACH and THE HANDMAID'S TALE. There are advantages to this approach -- the classics are always there and obvious for us to read on our own time. Still, I'm going to knock this book out quick and in secret. Once I've assimilated it into my being, I'll pretend that I read it years ago. Don't tell anyone.
The only thing I'm taking in outside of music & books is THE ELDER SCROLLS IV: SKYRIM, the NBA Finals, and MARON. MARON is a great show for fans of Marc Maron. Andy Greenwald is correct in assessing that the show doesn't capture what's great about his WTF podcast, but for those of us that have grown to become a fan of his person, warts and all, it's immensely gratifying. No small part of it is his narrative of being a constant underdog finally getting his day in the sun -- it's joyful for superfans merely because he's getting the acclaim he's convinced us he deserves. In that current form, it might not be an instant crossover hit, but it's a wonderful base to start from.
I was surprised at how well they've written everyone that isn't Marc. Kyle, Dragon Master, and even the celebrity guests have delightful character quirks and personalities that deflect any criticism of Marc's work being navel-gazing. The temptation here is to compare it to LOUIE, another show where a comedian gets to do whatever the hell he wants, but it doesn't even feel like the same genre. It's more conventional and movie-like, as opposed to the strangely funny essays that LOUIE presents to us in theatrical form.
I'm looking forward to it. I dont' get IFC, so I've been relying on Hulu & Amazon Instant Video. I wasn't initially jazzed about spending $3 for an episode, but then I realized I spend twice that almost every day on expensive coffee because some guy makes it in a vase or some shit. I felt like an ass after that.