Friday, October 21, 2005

Haruki Murakami

My most recently discovered favorite author is Haruki Murakami, whose short stories I have been reading compulsively the last few days. Actually, my fixation started several weeks ago, around the time I read this passage from a Murakami story in The New Yorker:
For me, on the other hand, it was the Year of Funerals. Friends and former friends died one after another, like ears of corn withering in a drought. I was twenty-eight. My friends were all about the same age -- twenty-seven, twenty-eight, twenty-nine. Not the right age to die.

A poet dies at twenty-one, a revolutionary or a rock star at twenty-four. But after that you assume that everything is going to be all right. You've made it past Dead Man's Curve and you're out of the tunnel, cruising straight for your destination down a six-lane highway -- whether you want to be or not. You get your hair cut; you shave every morning. You aren't a poet anymore, or a revolutionary or a rock star. You don't pass out drunk in phone booths or blast the Doors at four in the morning. Instead, you buy life insurance from your friend's company, drink in hotel bars, and keep your dental bills for medical deductions. That's normal at twenty-eight.

But that was exactly when the unexpected massacre started in our lives. It was like a surprise attack on a lazy spring day -- as if someone, on top of a metaphysical hill, holding a metaphysical machine gun, had sprayed us with bullets. One minute we were changing our clothes, and the next minute they didn't fit anymore: the sleeves were inside out, and we had one leg in one pair of pants and the other in a different pair. It was a mess....

-from "New York Mining Disaster," issue of Jan. 11, 1999, p. 75
A passage like that would be mesmerizing on any occasion, but I happened read it on the day before my twenty-eighth birthday. I wasn't sure if this was a prophecy or a call to action, whether to warn my friends or run for metaphysical cover. I knew this was great writing, though, and I had to read more of it.

I don't want to tempt the copyright gods any more than I already have, but I do want to recommend another Murakami story which I just read today. It is called "Sleep," and it is published in the collection The Elephant Vanishes. The narrator is a somewhat happily married woman who after a bizarre and harrowing night-time experience she finds that she no longer needs to sleep. A whole series of discoveries and changes follows, as she is set free to live her own inner life in all those extra waking hours, and realizes just how much she has been imprisoned by routines and relationships.

Murakami's writing is often classified as "magic realism," meaning that an unexplainable phenomenon permeates an otherwise conventional life, offering a profound glimpse into that life's inner workings. I looked up magic realism in the Wikipedia online encyclopedia, and found that it extends to painting and film as well as literature - not music though. I guess all music is a sort of magic realism, in which scientists sing arias and lovers' sighs transform into fugal counterpoint.

I'm sure more experienced Murakami readers can recommend dozens of fascinating stories I've yet to discover, and I haven't even touched the novels yet. For others new to this author, a great place to start is the official Murakami website, which features reviews, art, and even samples of music mentioned in his stories and novels. Enjoy, and please watch out for metaphysical bullets!


Lydia Si-Ngaw Lui said...

Matt- I can't believe you mention Murakami! You have found another great author. Actually, Jeremy Eig was the one who introduced me to him, and later I found out that Joel Schekman (the friend of mine you met when you were last in LA) was the one who told Jeremy about him. Anyway, his books are fascinating in their conception and ideas. I really liked the Wind-up Bird Chronicle, especially. He can be very surreal in terms of setting and plot, yet his writings are emotionally very real and concrete. I know he came out with a new book a few months ago- I haven't been able to check it out yet.

melon collie said...

I read this book by Murakami called 'Norwegian Wood', named of course, after the Beatles song.
Truly remarkable, it was. He simply has a way of setting the atmosphere up in a quiet, unhurried manner.
You must try to pick it up sometime..