Lehman book club discussion

1Q84 > What the Hell happened to Week 2?!

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message 1: by Elizabeth (new)

Elizabeth (elizabethintexas) | 22 comments Hey, you guys might be reading rabbits, but that doesn't mean you can skip the homework!

WEEK 2: my thoughts

More and more elements of Tengo's and Aomame's stories seem unsettlingly unrealistic - like a dream that seems real when you are in the midst of it, but upon awakening, you recognize the fantastical elements of it. The unrealities of 1Q84 thus far make me evaluate the reliability of both narrators and, not surprisingly, they are both unreliable. Aomame is a femme fatale (literally!) who we are repeatedly told is honest, but she is a paid assassin who hides her deeds and her money. She also lives in a world in which there are two moons; her reality does not jive with our own, so you can take nothing in her storyline at face value. Then there is Tengo, a seemingly nice-ish guy, but he too is dishonest, entering a scheme to dupe readers of Air Chrysalis as well as cuckolding the husband of his lover. There is also Tengo's attitude about fiction: "The role of a story was, in the broadest terms, to transpose a single problem into another form. Depending on the nature and direction of the problem, a solution could be suggested in the narrative." And what is Tengo's problem that would make him invent this story? His shitty life. As a child, Tengo discovered escape through reading Dickens and began imaginative journeys about himself: "As he traveled through the world of the stories, he steeped himself in reimagined versions of his own life. The reimagining (or obsessive fantasies) in his head grew ever longer and more complex. They followed a single pattern, but with infinite variations. In all of them, Tengo would tell himself that this was not the place where he belonged. He had been mistakenly locked in a cage. Someday [he would be rescued], then he would have the most beautiful, peaceful, and free Sundays imaginable." Boom. Also of interest, his imaginings which grew longer and more complex, "a single pattern, but with infinite variations" are a lot like the description of Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier which both Tengo and Fuki-Eri love: "The Well-Tempered Clavier was truly heavenly music for mathematicians. It was composed of prelude and fugue pairs in major and minor keys using all twelve tones of the scale, twenty-four pieces per book, forty-eight pieces in all, comprising a perfect cycle."
One thing in particular makes me think this whole story is an invention of Tengo as opposed to Aomame or Tengo and Aomame: Aomame's sexual relationships. She and her encounters read like a teenage boy's fantasy. Women do not have sex with strangers just for gratification. It is their biological imperative not to do so. No matter how much a woman might enjoy sex, there are reasons she engages in it - to share love through intimacy, to become pregnant, to seek approval, to get a mate. Murakami seems too thoughtful a writer to have made such a crass misstep in the depiction of Aomame's sexuality.
There are a couple of other things that don't make sense unless 1Q84 is someone's fantasy, the first being Tengo's acquiescence regarding his involvement in a shadow company formed around Air Chrysalis. I can see how his intense response to Fuki-Eri's story overwhelmed him with a desire to make it even better - a Truer representation of her intention, but to enter into a contractual relationship where he takes money? Nope. It doesn't make sense, particularly since Tengo does not want the money. Komatsu's argument that he has come this far so he has too sign a contract and take money is not persuasive. Sometimes characters make mistakes in novels that make sense, but this one doesn't. It just seems like a clumsy device to get Tengo more entwined in an unsettling, deepening mystery, but I keep coming back to Murakami - he just doesn't seem like a careless writer.
Then there is Aomami's developing relationship with Ayumi including one lesbian encounter thus far (male fantasy element again). Aomame is so amazingly self-confident that when she becomes aware that police officers' uniforms have changed and a shoot-out in the mountains escaped her notice, she concludes that reality, not she, is at fault. When she encounters Ayumi, however, her powers of reasoning desert her. Aomame, the assassin in hiding, is approached and enticed by a police officer frustrated in her professional ambitions. Nevertheless, she joins Ayumi in approaching two anonymous guys in a bar. Upon awakening the next morning, Aomami has no memory of the previous night, but discovers that she has been screwed forward, backward, and upside down, and licked like an all-day sucker, yet she doesn't automatically become suspicious (as the reader does) and think "set-up" and "date-rape drug?" Nope. After fending off yet another lesbian encounter, Aomami thinks what we all would, "I'm fond of this girl Ayumi, no doubt about it. I want to be as good to her as I can" - leaving the door open for more scissoring.

This all leads me to my working hypothesis: Tengo is a school boy sitting at the dinner table of his middle class Tokyo home, head in hands, staring down at his aomame (green peas). His brother Komatsu sits nearby, cradling his violin. Tengo has been told that he may not leave the table until he has eaten his peas.
"But I hate green peas."
"Well, you're going to have to eat them anyway because you are not getting up from here until you do."
"This is so unfair!"
"Don't even talk to me about unfair. I'm supposed to meet Fuki-Eri at 7, but Mom says I have to stay here until you eat those damn green peas, so you'd better figure out a way to eat them and like them." Komatsu lifts his violin and plays the first few bars of Janacek's Sinfonietta. Pausing, he looks over at Tengo and cautions, "Remember, big brother is watching you!"
Resigned, Tengo brings a fork full of green peas to his mouth and, as he does when faced with unpleasantries, escapes into his imagination.

message 2: by Sarah (new)

Sarah Doskocil (soverview) | 25 comments Mom,
Interesting thoughts. I think an important distinction to make is that neither Aomame, nor Tengo are actual narrators of their own stories, instead we have a limited (meaning focused on one person) third person narration. I would say that makes Tengo and Aomame's reliability as story tellers less important. I could believe that the story is being made up, after all, we don't know who the narrator is, but I think it's not possible for it to be made up by one of the main characters. I don't have a defense for this belief, other than that it would be too imbalanced, and I think this book is very interested in balance.

I think you've noticed something interesting: the desirea la rge swath of the populace shares, to escape from their own humdrum lives, and the power of fiction to provide a form of escape. I think that may be part of the socialist concept that I feel must be waiting in the wings. People's desire for a different life will lead them down a bad path, maybe the path of socialism.

I would say that Tengo is fundamentally a weak person (and Aomame is fundamentally a strong person) which is why he has agreed to rewrite Fuka-Eri's book. He wanted to, and no one else had a problem with it. It tells us several times that Tengo likes his desires (in all things) to be guided by someone else, which makes me think that it is very believable that he would rewrite Air Chrysalis. Someone told him to, he wanted to, no one (except a moral voice he obviously doesn't listen very hard to) told him not to. Every reader has to approach a story with their own thoughts guiding them, but I didn't find Tengo's actions clumsily done. I think if he were the kind of person to stand on moral high ground, he wouldn't be the kind of person to enter into relationships with former students or with people who are married. He is definitely a "go with the flow" kind of person.

I think you have unknowingly touched on something important when you talk about Aomame's confidence. I think she is the balance for Tengo. Aomame's "mantra" is "don't hesitate," do what you think is right, no matter what the rules are, and no matter what the consequences are. Her idea of "right" may be skewed, but she is acting 100% in accordance with her moral compass. Tengo on the other hand... And yet, Tengo has, from society's view, done nothing all that bad. A very interesting juxtaposition.

As far as the bizarre sexual encounter Aomame has with Ayumi: I think it is important to note that sexual encounters in the book start off strange and get more strange and more uncomfortable as you go along. The first sexual encounter described is the memory Tengo has of his mother. It is an uncomfortable memory to be privy to, a strange act for a (presumably) lactating mother with a taboo partner in front of a taboo audience, but, putting discomfort aside, it's not really that unusual. You say, "ew... gross," but people have affairs all the time. The next encounter is also somewhat taboo. Aomame and her high school friend having a lesbian encounter. Again, it feels like we shouldn't be privy to it, it seems a little taboo, but is it really that unusual? The next encounter ends with Aomame contemplating murder. We are now somewhat outside the realm of "normal," but after all, she doesn't act on it. We also see Tengo with his married girlfriend, while immoral, this isn't exactly unusual, and for now, the graduation of Tengo's sexual encounters plateaus, while Aomame's escalates. Aomame is probably date raped, and seems not to care, she also encounters multiple people who have been sexually violated as children. There is a graduation to a type of prostitution. I don't want to go on too far, because I'm not sure how far you've read. I think Aomame's devaluation of sex is definitely supposed to make us uncomfortable. I think her relationship with the opposite sex indicates a devaluation of men, in general. I think we are supposed to understand that we are dealing with a character who is so damaged that she doesn't even notice some of the terrible things around her, or how terrible her own actions are. I think we are looking at a completely autonomous person who lives outside of relationships, and may be a narcissist.

I also think we are being forced to confront an uncomfortable aspect of society, and that is the devaluation of sexual relationships in general, and that it is being so graphically described in an effort to make the reader uncomfortable, and ask themselves, "Okay, where do I draw the line?"

I like the Twilight Zone strangeness of your hypothesis, and while it does seem poetic, I don't think it will hold up in the end. It would bring a kind of pointlessness to the book that I don't anticipate. I think we are supposed to be struggling, at this point with the sharp division between the "real" and the "strange," but in the world that's been created for us the strange things are also real. I am not totally confident in that assessment, but it is how I am approaching the book at this point.

I enjoyed hearing what you had to say, Mom, and it made me think more about my own interpretation of the book.

message 3: by Elizabeth (new)

Elizabeth (elizabethintexas) | 22 comments Sarah wrote: "Mom,
Interesting thoughts. I think an important distinction to make is that neither Aomame, nor Tengo are actual narrators of their own stories, instead we have a limited (meaning focused on one pe..."

Responses to your points, Sarah, in no particular order:

Good instruction about the narrator(s), and your point about balance between Aomame and Tengo rings true..

If Murakami is going to make a link between story telling and socialism, he's got some writin' to do (but still 900 pages to go, so I will grant some leeway).

You convinced me the other day in conversation that it is reasonable for Tengo to have rewritten Air Chrysalis. My point above is about allowing himself to enter into a legal contract after the rewrite and accept money when he doesn't want to, there is nothing in it for him, and there is considerable risk involved. He has already rewritten the story, which was his goal. Why, against his better judgement, go further? But your observations about Tengo's weakness may apply here too; despite his reservations, maybe it is enough that Komatsu tells him to do it. It still feels a little like the author is making it happen rather than letting it happen, but I am willing to be wrong.

I really like your idea about blurring the line between normal and strange, real and unreal, and that the sexual encounters are used to explore this. As with most of your ideas, I wish I had thought of it myself!

I had to laugh out loud when you said that I "may have unknowingly touched on something important." Thanks? But again, your remarks are so spot on regarding Aomame and Tengo's natures. She is demonstrably bad according to societal norms, while Tengo lives within most of society's rules. Yet, the story is shaping up to have Tengo inflict the most harm. This is closely related to your idea regarding the loss of distinction between normal and strange.

Something that strikes me about the sex scenes, in addition to how dehumanizing they are and the (growing) level of discomfort they cause, is how incomplete they are. Any romance other than the Christian ones has more graphic sex scenes than 1Q84 thus far. The scenes here are written with very little detail, but Murakami is obviously not holding back to protect the reader's sensibilities since discomfort seems to be the goal. The sexual passages read like someone who has imagined sex, but never had it, and partly lead to my hypothesis that this is Tengo's story - which you blew up! I am still inclined to think that this is someone's fantasy and is a story about a story about a story (as opposed to novel in the magical realism or fantasy genres), but perhaps because I am reluctant to relinquish my theory, the dramatization of which I thought particularly amusing. I was trying to make a connection between 1984 and 1Q84, a connection I don't yet see. Dad and I watched the 1985 version of 1984 tonight (they were a bit tardy), and neither of us can yet connect those dots. Right now I see more similarity between 1Q84 and Don Quixote - a novel about the necessity of story telling with a dash of metafiction thrown in.

LOL, I imagine I helped you with your interpretation of the book the same way Arthur helps you cook dinner!

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