Oct 032007

Read at your own risk! Author jabs at thematic value, but half this book could vanish and be a better read.

Can anyone tell me what it all means? No, nobody can. Haruki Murakami might try to make an effort, but in the end, he just complicates the actual meaning. I recently read Japanese author Murakami’s first novel released in the United States entitled “The Elephant Vanishes.”

This book is a collection of fifteen short stories, written in unique prose that I cannot decide if I like or not. Honestly, I do think this book is fascinating. It is written in bare, unadorned prose that works against the absurd, surreal and sometimes supernatural plot devices. I think it is certainly effective in joining the reader with the protagonist of each story by way of shared emotions, and made me uneasy or embarrassed quite a few times.

I suppose the most obvious annoyance with the characters is repetition. Although no character or plotline technically overlaps in other stories, the same character outline was recurring; middle-class, 20s or 30s, all have a fondness of classical music. The same character employed in all the stories dulled the thread of connection I managed to have.

Each short story is written with believably dry characters and initial situations, but spun in a bizarre direction when that character seems to be minding his or her own business and something completely unwarranted happens.

Sometimes that unexpected conflict comes from within, like in “The Kangaroo Communique” or “Lederhosen,” but sometimes Murakami takes a situation and then tries to add an external element that shocks, delights and made me a little edgy. For example, “The Little Green Monster” is a ridiculous story about how a scaly green cretin climbs out of a woman’s garden to seek her love. She’s disgusted by both the sight and audacity of the monster, and she kills it by thinking wildly torturous thoughts. When the story is finally over, the author resonates this tritely written passage, “Your existence is over, finished, done. Soon the eyes dissolved into emptiness, and the room filled with the darkness of night.”

This kind of meaningless banter doesn’t fill me with gratitude or of transcendence – just a slight discomfort and annoyance.

Unsound events transcribed into simple prose are also evident in the chapters “TV People,” “The Dancing Dwarf” and “The Elephant Vanishes.” Half this book I was scoffing at or just plain felt stupid reading because the lack of anything substantial. I do enjoy (very much) magical realism. Murakami attempts the bumpy success of magical realism, however, to me, the magical element needs to be rooted in reality. For Murakami, the magical is McGuffin and nothing else matters. It’s there to be credited, but seems to me pretty darn random. It’s as if the author thinks, “It would be really cool if . this dwarf melts the face off his girlfriend.” By the way, that really happens in “The Dancing Dwarf.”

Alas, I’m not completely in accord with myself. “The Elephant Vanishes” has disparity. I really enjoyed some of the chapters, like “Lederhosen.” This narrative exaggerates a silly opportunity for a traveling wife to purchase lederhosen for her husband, but is rooted in the realness of her relationship with her husband. I thought this story was very well written and succeeded in employing the theme in a very humanistic way.

Another interesting story that developed in swift paragraphs and left me thinking is called “Barn Burning.” The emotion connected to this fine story is nostalgia and loss. Come to think of it, the stories that I did find enjoyable were when Murakami challenges an emotion we all know.

What happens when we are stricken by this emotion? What does it make us do? In the successful stories within this book, Murakami utilizes a simple human emotion to make the emotion inside the reader expand and contract. Then the author can flip and stretch it when the plot turns awry. Boredom, obligation, curiosity and loneliness are some emotions that come to mind.

 Posted by at 5:00 pm

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