According to the Internet, my name means "grace, charm, and favor." Other sources say it means "love." All sources agree that the name is Greek. If I...moreAccording to the Internet, my name means "grace, charm, and favor." Other sources say it means "love." All sources agree that the name is Greek. If I was a character in a Murakami novel, I fear I would be some kind of weird hippie. Or a personable kind of socialite.
My name isn't Greek. And it doesn't mean "love." It doesn't mean anything. My name was chosen relatively free of implication. Like many other poor American parents in the 80s, mine made my name up. Which is kind of weird when I think about it. There are those names that seem almost prophetic. I knew a former cop who told me that any kid named Cody was doomed to spend time in prison. Just this week, after my daughter had an altercation on the playground with some asshole kid, my wife lamented that she'd never met a Tyler who wasn't a little bastard.
In Murakami novels (and this may be a Japanese cultural thing- I don't know enough to say properly), names mean a lot. In a true Murakami novel, I guess, I wouldn't be a hippie. He'd probably mention that my name would ordinarily make me a hippie, but that, due to my parents' socioeconomic status, I have a name without meaning. Which would probably be fairly damning.
Tsukuru Tazaki suffers from this problem. His first name is okay, meaning "to build or make," it's very descriptive of his nature. He's a train station engineer, and he seems to think his father's decision to give him the name contributed to that. His last name is where the trouble comes in. It's not what it means that's the problem- it's what it doesn't mean that ultimately results in woe.
In high school, Tsukuru was a part of a very close knit group of friends, all of whom had colors in their surnames. Tsukuru was the one in the group whose name made him an outcast (in that very small way). Tsukuru is the only one in the group who leaves their hometown to go to college. When he returns on a break, he comes home to find that, all of a sudden, his friends will no longer speak to him. They won't say why, insisting that he knows the reason. Perplexed, he sinks into a deep depression, his colorlessness becoming the defining quality of his life.
Tsukuru eventually meets a woman who insists that, if he is going to enter into a serious relationship with her, he must find closure to the issues he has relating to the abandonment of his friends. So begins Tsukuru's strange journey into the past, an exploration filled with surprises and, most importantly, introspection. All of Murakami's protagonists are deep thinkers, but Tsukuru is one of his most interesting. He's very much rooted in the present, so his forays into the future and the past are quite temporary. He doesn't get wrapped up in nostalgia or what can be, an ability that gives him a unique detached ability to evaluate his own actions and those of the people who have traveled through his life.
This makes for a pretty atypically structured novel, with a plot that is far from predictable (though not very important). The focus is the development of Tsukuru's sense of self in relation to those around him. Upon finishing it, I felt perfectly content and highly introspective myself. I predict that the ending is going to piss off a lot of readers. But I kind of loved it.
It didn't immediately click with me when I picked up the book that the gilded pages were supposed to emulate the Bible. After all, it is a book of str...moreIt didn't immediately click with me when I picked up the book that the gilded pages were supposed to emulate the Bible. After all, it is a book of strange new things. As I made my way through the novel, of course, it ought to have become apparent. But no. Not until the end, when the sad, sorry protagonist mentioned his own golden-paged Bible did it make sense.
I doubt that someone with reverence for the Bible wouldn't catch this. But that's not me. And, in this case, that's probably a good thing. The story concerns missionary work on a foreign planet, preaching the gospel to those who ought not to know it. But, like me, they do. Or at least a part of it. Not enough to see things how they really are (from a Christian point of view), but enough to confuse the teachings. Their Bible comes with a different name and fewer consonants and serves a completely different purpose than it does on Earth.
I like their Bible better because it represents a core philosophical misunderstanding. This novel is full of those. Peter, the protagonist, thinks that he's following God's plan- leaving behind his wife and church- to spread the word of Christ to alien peoples. It's the mission to end all missions. When he arrives, though, he doesn't find the resistance he expects. Instead, he is met with acceptance and enthusiasm. This, of course, makes him feel like he's done the right thing. God's got all the worlds in his hand.
It's the perfect setup for a retelling of Job. Give the man everything, then take it all away. Don't kill him, but test his faith. Destroy his family, his sense of self. Deliver upon him all the cruelty you can and watch his faith persist in spite of it all.
Faber does some amazing things in this journey. The epistolary relationship that exists between the husband and wife was painful to read. The misunderstandings and missteps were entirely unnecessary and uncalled for, but so very real. It really called attention away from the real bad guy and focused it on Bea and Peter, both of whom contributed willfully to their own downfall. The backdrop of this mess, this not-entirely-real world of stilted email communication, was a sanitized vision of a space utopia. The rightness of life on the alien world made the discomfort of Earth ever so apparent. Until the bait-and-switch, of course.
While the book had it's weak points (Earth as Sodom and/or Gomorrah, faultless alien beings), it was a compelling read. The world-building was adequate and the characters were pretty strong. I am looking forward to reading Faber's other book, which, I understand, are not science fiction. I'd be okay with that, as the interpersonal stuff seems to be his strong suit. Although the sci-fi was okay, too.
It's strange for me to read a single horror novel, let alone two horror novels in the same week. There's something profoundly unappealing about the ge...moreIt's strange for me to read a single horror novel, let alone two horror novels in the same week. There's something profoundly unappealing about the genre to me, which makes little sense given my attraction to horror in other mediums. I suppose that, for me, horror needs to be a sensory experience. I need to hear the rusty scissors being put to their sinister purpose. I need that thing to actually pop out of the darkness. My brain isn't forgiving when it comes to frightening descriptions.
Of the two I read this week, I liked this one the best. That's probably because it didn't come across with the deathly seriousness that the other one did. This seriousness, in my experience, is pretty common among works of literary horror. And that is a shame because it shows that many writers of horror fiction have learned very little from horror films. You can be serious, but not all the time. No one wants to feel exactly the same way for the duration of a novel. Dread and foreboding can be good, but when they never let up, it's like having the same dinner every night for a week. Temper the salty with sweetness. If you want to scare me, you must also make me laugh.
And that's where this book succeeds. Reading it, I thought about how great the movie will inevitably be. It's got a silly premise- a haunted Ikea knock-off store. It's a ghost story set in the most improbable of locations. How can a giant, Swedish design factory, with its new building and shiny, do-it-yourself assembly projects harbor restless, blood-thirsty denizens from the beyond? How can Ikea be a frightening place?
Somehow, Hendrix manages to do it (to a degree). I wasn't remotely frightened, but I was interested, which is about the best reaction I could hope to have to a horror story. I love the parallels he made between Orsk and that (surprising) thing that haunts it. And the design of the book did a lot to bring in some of those visual elements that horror films do well. I loved the layout of the book, and I'm not typically one for gimmicky book design. When I first saw the book, I thought it was a Halloween-themed Ikea catalog, which made my heart skip with joy. Even after I realized it was a book, I was still impressed with the cleverness. As I read it, I was more and more amused by the illustrations, which become more depraved as the story progresses.
This book was worth my time. I enjoyed it. There are many people out there who will love it. For me, it was an exceptionally clever meditation on consumer culture and quickly-forgotten history. And the ectoplasm scene was pretty fucking cool. (less)
I finished reading this novel while sitting at a picnic table on the bank of the Platte River in Casper, Wyoming. A guy walked by me with his bicycle...moreI finished reading this novel while sitting at a picnic table on the bank of the Platte River in Casper, Wyoming. A guy walked by me with his bicycle and said he liked my tie. A few minutes later he came back and stopped.
"I don't mean to freak you out or anything," he said.
I was vaguely curious where this conversation was heading, so I closed my book.
"I'm homeless. I live in the woods over there," he said, gesturing to the river. I glanced in the direction the pointed, a place I'd poked around the day before. Listening to the wind blowing through the cottonwood trees, I could see why he might want to make camp in the tall grass over yonder. I couldn't help but wonder about snakes, though. Doesn't Wyoming have snakes?
"My boyfriend broke up with me and threw me out. Then I lost my job. So I live here. I'm just going to take a nap."
"Sounds like a good idea," I said.
"Just didn't want to freak you out by walking back and forth all the time."
"I appreciate that."
He pushed his bike towards the river and disappeared amongst the trees and grass. I turned back to my book.
It wouldn't be fair to paint all the people of Wyoming with the same brush, but my experience made that hard. This homeless fellow would not have been out of place in Tim Sandlin's GroVont novels. He reminded me a great deal of Maurey Pierce in Sorrow Floats- a decent human being with a hard life. A victim of circumstance. A scorned lover, some poor choices. Maybe some addiction involved. But she made out okay.
Tim Sandlin's characters are always quirky and odd. They face continual setbacks, truly odd sexual situations, and, yet, always deal with it with a sense of humor. Sandlin's Wyoming is a charming world filled with charming people reacting to a continual barrage of weird shit.
Being there, reading this, I felt like one of them.
"I'm going to go down to the park," he said when he woke from his nap. "There might be some families picnicking. I'm going to lay in the sun and maybe get some food."