Book Review 03: And my head didn't hurt too much

I'm a big fan of Haruki Murakami. I just finish Dance, Dance, Dance. And like most of Murakami's work, it was a wonderful journey with a somewhat unsatisfying end. You can see the offical site by clicking on his name above.

I'd link directly to the book on this site but it's one of those pretty yet stupid, annoying, frustrating and ridculous flash sites. Please, people. There is no reason to use flash for your entire site unless you are just trying to show how cool and artistic you are. And then it doesn't come off as cool and artistic; it comes across as self important, arrogant, and annoying.

And another thing. Never design your site to play audio as soon a a visitor gets there. The last thing I want while perusing a primarily visual medium in the quiet of my office is to suddenly be assaulted by your must-hear music. Give me link. If I want to hear it, I'll click it. If not, Shut the Hell Up!

So I've established that the Murakami website is horrible -- pretty, but horrible.

Murakami himself is a brilliant author. His ideas, storys, and characters are a pleasure to read, and what he does with language is just amazing. Even more amazing is that he crafts these images in Japanese and has to rely on translators for the English versions.

Dance, Dance, Dance takes place several years after A Wild Sheep Chase and features the same unnamed narrator trying to make is way through a bizarre life.

It's one of Murakami's more straight forward novels. Granted, it still involves a mystery hotel that is both there and not, the otherwordly Sheep Man, a psychic 13 year old girl, and an asortment of mysterious prostitutes.

Murakami is reluctant to name his characters. His narrators often don't have names, and do not know the names of the people they are talking to. His chracters can spend months living with a character and not know her name. Other times, they may know the name, but the narrator never tells us. In Dance, Dance, Dance, we learn the names, or aliases, of characters only after we've been reading about them for several chapters.

One character in this book -- that of a failing author -- has a name that is simply an anagram of Murakami's own name. I'm not sure how if that's how it was written in the original Japanese, or if that's something that was added in translation.

Besides musical greats and movies stars from before the 1970s, western names rarely pop up. In fact, this is the first Murakami book I recall that has an American as a reasonably significant secondary character. His name: Dick North. Which just seems like an absurdly American name.

Hotels also feature prominently in Murakami's work. Some of them are real; some of them exist in a dream state; some exist in a different world altogether. I'm sure someone has gotten their Master's Degree in English with a dissertaion on "The Significance of Hotels, Motels, and Rooming Houses in Murakami -- We'll Leave the Light on for Ya."

In several of his books, there is one character who it "perfect". It's a characters who can put people at ease and always dresses impeccably. Even in sack cloth this character looks stylish. Often that character will have a flaw of some sort, but for the most part, the character operates with an otherworldly smoothness and comfort. In Wind Up Bird Chronicles, that character is Cinamon. In this book, it's Gotanda. It's always someone the narrator seems to have the utmost respect for.

I enjoyed the book. Going into it, I knew I had to surrender myself to Murakami's world. In that world, Reality is a fuzzy thing. Different planes of existence intersect. Dreams and thoughts can come alive. And Death is never far from life.

There's also something about his focus on unmarried 30-something male narators and how they try to maintain order in their bizarre and chaotic lives that speaks to me, as well.

I'm being light on the specifics to avoid spoilers. There are plenty of surprises in this book. While the pace and mood are fairly steady for 85% of it, in the last 40-60 pages it takes a real turn to the darkside and asks questions about the human mind. But then it turns around and resolves most of it by the end.

Murakami does tie things up well, but there there are still plenty of things at the end of the book that he leaves unresolved. Depending on your approach to reading, that's either brilliant or frustrating.

For me, it's frustrating. I'd like to have more of the answers. I'd like to know more about just what happened and why. That's also one of the things I found frustrating about M. Night Shyamalan. I wanted to know more aobut what happened with the invasion in the rest of the world. I wanted the bigger picture. I wanted the threads tied up. I didn't get that. Unfortunately, I know I'm not going to get that from Murakami, either.

The point of the story seems to be that you need to follow your fate where ever it takes you. And you can't just rely on the wind to get you there. You have a to keep moving -- keep dancing -- so you don't fade from the world (as I quoted last week). Yet it seems that characters that do that sometimes end up dead. So I'm not sure.

But there is less of that confusion in this book than there is in many others. I may need to reread the prequel to this book eventually, because I'm still not sure what happened.

But even with these frustrating endings, and some extraneous characters and side lines (I'm not sure what the June story line really gave us), the story telling process itself is compelling.

He crafts a fascinating world that challenges assumptions. He draws vivid characters that I want to hang out with at Starbucks. And his story telling just sucks me in and pulls me along for the ride.

If you're up for an unusual story, with great writing, pick up Dance Dance Dance. If you are a complete-ist who likes to do things in order, start with A Wild Sheep Chase. Actaully, start there regardless.

Here are some sample passages of his elegant prose.

A pathetic place, woebegone as a three legged black dog drenched in December rain. Sad hotels exist everywhere , to be sure, but the Dolphin was in a class of its own. The Dolphin Hotel was conceptually sorry. The Dolphin Hotel was tragic.

Page 3

The bolded sentence may be my favorite in the book.

"Listen, are you busy right now?" Gotanda interrupted.
"No, not at all. I had some time on my hands so I was about to fix dinner."
"Perfect. How about a meal? I was just thinking of looking for a dinner partner. You know how it is. Nothing tastes good when you eat alone."

Page 133

Murakami's characters eat, cook, clean, sleep, and shave. He uses the details of everyday life to sharpen the picture on his fuzzy reality.

The place we went to was a steak house in a remote corner of Roppongi. Expensive, by the looks of it. When the Mercedes pulled up to the door, the doorman and maitre d' and staff came out to greet us. We were conducted to a secluded booth in the back. Everyone in the place was very fashionable, but Gotanda in his corduroys and jogging shoes was the sharpest dresser in the place. His nonchalance oozed style. As soon as we entered, everyone's eyes were on him. They stared for two seconds, no longer, as if it were some unwritten law of etiquette.

We sat down and ordered two scotch-and-waters. Gotanda proposed the toast: "To our ex-wives."

Page 135

An example of the "perfect" character.

I cooked meals, went into Shibuya, and saw Unrequited Love everyday. It was spring break, so the theater was always packed with high school students. It was
like an animal house. I wanted to burn the place down.

Page 159

I like how he contrast the fun and life filled scene with Arson and death.

"…Mediocrity's like a spot on a shirt -- it never comes off."

Page 310

A simple image that sticks.

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