I always want to condemn him for the writing. After the first few pages, I want to pull out a red Sharpie and scrawl "PULP CRAP" across the cover andI always want to condemn him for the writing. After the first few pages, I want to pull out a red Sharpie and scrawl "PULP CRAP" across the cover and ship it off to the kind folks at Viking. Because accessibility is bad, right? A book you can easily understand cannot possible be capital-G-Good, can it?
It's nice when a book strolls along and focuses its burning spotlight on my literary snobbishness, exposing me for the pretentious asshole I tend to be. Because for all the clunky composition, the omniscience-related confusion, It stuck with me. I've felt anxious and down for a solid week. Only with the conclusion of the book did the cloud lift and finally reveal itself.
Stephen King may not be the most gifted wordsmith in the history of the novel, but he has a firm handle on themes that make me physically ill. And they're not gore and spiders and wolfmen. They're parental neglect and guilt and people being people. It manages to merge all of these into a shit cocktail I could barely stomach.
I had the most trouble with Henry Bowers. I hated him because I've met him so many times in my life. Here, sure, he's hyperbolically psychotic, but he doesn't start that way. And that's terrifying. I can remember the first time I met Henry. It was in the boys' restroom in fourth grade. Henry's name was Ryan back then. Ryan and me had never quarreled before, never really said anything to one another. But on that day, Ryan cornered me in the restroom and lifted me up by my shirt. He showed me that there were places that grown-ups were not, where their influence means precisely nothing.
And sometimes they come back. Henry went on to follow me throughout my childhood. In my adolescence, he changed his name back to Henry, then to David, then to Chris, then to the unfortunately named, Tater Tot. After that first time, there was a parade of Henry's waiting to fuck with me in the back of the bus or on the street or in the calculator section of Office Max. He always seemed to be there (or, if not, his memory certainly was), waiting to call me a fag or spit on me or kick my ass.
As if that wasn't bad enough, King reminded me that shit always runs downhill. Henry Bowers has a motherfucker of a father. I had one of those. And sometimes that meant that Henry changed his name to Caris. There was a neighbor kid we'd play with sometimes, but we'd always end up ganging up on. And there was that oddball kid in junior high who a friend and I had pushed into the mud. That part hurts worse.
People are people. Sometimes that means they're assholes. Here, in this book, they had a good reason for their evil deeds. In real life, that core supernatural reason isn't necessarily there, but the actions are largely the same. It's survival of the thickest.
Anyway. This sense of anxiety pervades the novel. There are evils to be avoided at every turn, and, yet, lives to be lived. That's where it really starts to feel bad. The seven kids have lives and personalities- they're good people who you don't want to see get hurt. But they're going to get hurt. Because this is art. And art imitates life (or so I've heard).
So while I have problems with (view spoiler)[preadolescent gangbangs (hide spoiler)] and (view spoiler)[giant killer spiders (hide spoiler)] in a novel I'm supposed to take seriously, I can't help but admit that the emotional roller coaster this book put me through made it something special. I don't like it for that, but I can grudgingly admit when I've been bested.
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 IAccording 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.