Monday, January 18, 2010

So on the eighth, i went to the public library with a list of names, of books, authors, & musicians, to go check. After wandering around for an hour (i thought they opened at 8; they open at 9 a.m.), i was finally able to go & complete this mission. Alot of the names weren't there, but a few were, & i came away with three books & five CDs. I wandered around Towson the rest of the day, & only bought The Golden Compass (used at Ukazoo), a turkey club wrap at Trader Joe's (i was so hungry i felt sick), & a cinnamon latte at the resident Barnes & Nobles' Starbucks cubby (& drew & listened to people whilst eating & drinking).

The books & CDs are due back a little more than a week from now, & i'm only just now actually getting through most of the CDs, i'm in the middle of one of the books, finished another, & the third i still need to do. But i already roughly know the plot of the third, as it is The Thin Man, by Dashiell Hammett, & i'm more than well acquainted with the movie. So i've just kind of flipped through it, & i think i might like the movie better, if i ever get around to reading this: there's a lot of "Jesuses" in the book, it seems, & while i'm One of Those Horrible Little Heathens more often than not, the feeling of the book doesn't seem the same as the movie.

The book i finished is Haruki Murakami's After Dark (if you want to write his name the Western way). I think Murakami's name is fairly prevalent when it comes to books, & so i picked up this book based off the dust jacket's little summary; it sounded interesting enough. It's also not a long book (just shy of 200 pages at 191), but i still didn't fly through it because i kept falling asleep early. And, as the setting is nighttime, i thought it only proper that i read it at night into the small hours of the morning.

The whole book takes place over the course of one night, starting at 11:56 p.m. & working its way on from there. After reading it, i can say that while the jacket's little summary could be called correct, it's also way off the mark. It makes everything sound like it follows a very linear plot, the kind that's recognizable in most stories. And there is something like that, but mostly the book reads very realistically, in that there are many unsolved things & people walk in & out of it the way they might over the course of a night. The summary claims that one of the characters' sleep is "mysteriously tied to the businessman plagued by the mark of his crime," but there's no revelatory part in the book where this is displayed. Maybe it's something tucked away in the story, something that makes you go "oh" when you make the connection. There is something of an obvious connecting bit, but it doesn't go beyond that; it doesn't elaborate.

There are some stranger bits to the story, concerning the sleeping character, Eri, & the unplugged TV in her room that turns itself on. But the majority of the story focuses on her sister, Mari, a little younger than she, & the events & people she meets when she stays out away from home one night. At first, the rhetoricalness of anonymity might be annoying, but if you keep reading, it steadily gets better. You can also pick out the differences between countries-- for me, between Japan & my place in America-- such as the convenience stores (konbini in Japan, apparently, genuinely live up to their name) & the concept of love hotels (&, i may be wrong, but i don't think Denny's over here stay open quite as late as the Denny's in the book?).

The characters are from all walks of life, as hackneyed as it sounds: Mari (a freshman college student herself) meets Takahashi, who's in a band; Kaoru, who is the manager of the love hotel Alphaville & works alongside Komugi & Korogi there; & a young Chinese prostitute, who ends up being beaten by a man who comes to the love hotel. Eventually the man who beat her comes into play, as well, & reading about his thoughts & doings, you wonder why he did it, what kind of man is he, really? But you don't ever find out much about him. Much is left unsaid & unknown about pretty much everyone in the book, & certain issues never climax. It's in a somewhat stark contrast compared to most other books, where authors try to try everything up neatly by the end. In that way, it seems more realistic: you're only seeing a portion of time that these people are all passing through. You discover bits about their pasts, but not everything, & you don't know their future. There's forboding signs for some, hopeful for others, but you don't know what's going to happen to them. The reader just simply isn't told. In that way, it's a fairly open-ended novel.

Of course, the fact that the book is translated from the Japanese can leave people to wonder about discrepencies between the original language & the one it's being translated to-- philologistical stuff like that. (At some point, i found myself wondering just how Takahashi & Mari were speaking, if they were using anything that got lost in translation.) But even with that in mind, it's well-done. It's written in the present tense & describes things as "we recognize the bed," & is very easy to read, &, i want to say, personable. I was kind of expecting it to be written the way many modern novels seem to be written, which i can't quite describe, really, but it's very often off-putting. But i didn't find anything off-putting about After Dark. The beginning made me despair a little, thinking that it was going that route, but as time went on, i was proven wrong. It's a strange kind of point of view: sometimes the reader knows things the characters in the story don't, but very often, the reader knows just about as much/little as anyone else.

For some, it might seem like a strange book written in a kind of strange way, & maybe the lack of a real definitive plot & resolution to things-- & there's something at the end that's a bit of an eyebrow raiser, maybe-- but overall it's an extremely likable, well-written, intriguing & interesting book. I think i'd like to buy it, myself. The only thing was that i did feel rather distanced from the characters-- not that i always take to characters in every book i read, but something about these people felt more distant than from other books. I mean, i liked them all, & at one point i definitely had worry flare up for Takahashi, so there was connection. It just felt odd to have such a palpable feeling of distance.

The last book is a book of short stories by Lorrie Moore & is called Birds of America. I am three stories away from being finished, but... i don't even know. This book is probably partially the reason for my current mood, & it keeps doing that. The praise for the book that they put on the cover talks about how it's "fiercely funny book," & "at once sad, funny, lyrical, & prickly." I don't know where these people are getting "funny" from, & maybe it's unfair of me to basically review & critique the book before finishing it, but i've read enough to say that i probably can't quite land on how i feel about this book. I think i like it, but i also think i hate it.

I can't decide if i like or dislike Moore's style, either. (This book is one huge ball of "i like it.... i hate it.") It's the kind of modern writing that i was worried After Dark would be filled of, & i don't feel like i can pick out any passage or sentence that would work as an example. Looking through, it feels like it has to do with how the story as a whole is written, & how it sticks together. I don't know how to put this "modern writing" into words: with Moore, i guess, there's a lot of weird-ish descriptions, a lot of depressing situations. I can't describe it, seriously; just find a copy & read it yourself. Or just one story, if Amazon or someplace will give the story list.

The feeling of so many of the stories is just so bleak & sad; as the back of the book says, they really are about "the lost & unsettled of America." A few of them end in a way that leaves you confused, with a lot of strange descriptions, things happening suddenly & confusingly (was he dreaming? is he hallucinating? why is she a bird all of a sudden?) & just kind of left there. It's a different open-endedness than After Dark's. It's not the kind that implies that time moves forward & you as the reader won't see all ends. This is just a confusing open-endedness, like at the last moment, the story took a sudden strange & inexplicable-- sometimes inexplicably unrealistic-- turn. At the absolute end of the story. It gives you the feeling of, you know, it's bad enough i just read this depressing short story, but now the ending makes no sense whatsoever. The only story i can think of off the top of my head that had a slightly more uplifting end was the second one, "Which Is More Than I Can Say About Some People."

I'm not saying, "How dare Lorrie Moore write sad stories!" Who doesn't write or make sad things, & who doesn't listen to/watch/read/look at/whatever sad things? They're completely relevant & needed. Maybe for me, it's more the circumstances that Moore's characters seem to end up in that i find frustrating. A lot of it has to do with relationships, it seems, including the occaisional mention of an affair somewhere & that type of emotional wreckage. The woman at her family's over the holidays with her dyslexic husband. The woman whose boyfriend confesses that he slept with another woman who was of the 1960s. The woman who moves away from Hollywood & her bit as a small-time actress & starts going out with some guy & it seems like her what can't even be called a life is just crumbling & old & decrepit & that story makes no sense, i tell you. I think maybe the misunderstandings & the feeling of overanalysis are what i find frustrating. No, nothing's ever simple, but why can't people just believe in some things a little more? Reading these stories seems to hit on a lot of things that make me sad, & so they don't put me in the best mood ever. I even took ages to read two today, in front of the TV while MythBusters was on, thinking maybe that could counteract the sadness. Needless to say, it didn't. But at the same time, i can't help but like the book. I don't understand, really.