I had someone recommend 1Q84 to me – repeatedly. It was in itself like a scene from the book. “She sits in the barely used upstairs loft of the cafe surrounded by empty tables. The thin woman with the pronounced clavicle and aqua-marine shirt hanging lose at the neck sits rigidly across from her. She thinks about a soft, more human version of a mannequin. The woman blinks slowly and speaks in a soft voice. She says, ‘you really ought to read it, it’s exactly what you’re looking for. I’m telling you…’ And she feels suddenly compelled beyond all reason to grab a hold of the book.”
I’m only at the first few chapters of the large tome of a book, so I can’t really tell you a whole lot about it. It’s lovely and lyrical and very sloooooow. It takes its time moving from sequence to sequence and spends a great deal of time in the minds of the characters as they contemplate the complexity of their lives the world folding in around it. Aomame hates her name and that it is a type of pea (and is really tired of people asking her if her name makes her hungry).
But it is also a really weird book. Sitting in a car stuck in traffic start to be a metaphysical experience as the music that the driver plays seems to hypnotize the character. Her mind wanders to thoughts that she isn’t sure that she is having. She’s pretty sure that they don’t belong to her and she doesn’t know why.
This does get a bit boring as I follow Aomame’s wandering thoughts going to what or where I have no idea. It’s my big nit with modern lit, the obsessive introversion. How much can I care about the life of someone who has so little to care about beyond his or her feelings? The world outside is merely a passive setting for the character to be in. Until the story gathers stakes I’m not entirely in tune with it. There are those who argue that real lit has small stakes. Nonsense. Life doesn’t have small stakes, so why should lit? (And for those who don’t have large stakes, whose good fortune are you robbing to have them, hmm?) No, life is boring, but when the shit hits the fan, it matters. Getting cancer isn’t small stakes. Losing your job with a family to support and a mortgage hanging over your head isn’t small stakes. And on and on.
I think that it’s recognizing that importance is what makes the story a story. Mundane does matter. Ordinary can be heroic. (Hey, wasn’t Rosa Parks a super hero with powers.)
Anyhow, I like that Murakami is able to take the mundane and find a strange and absurd little twist. Not something huge. A dragon doesn’t come ripping down the highway throwing cars to the side as it lopes toward Aomame. Instead the driver of the car asks her if she’s got somewhere important to be. When she tells him that she’s going to be late to her important thing, he reveals a secret, something only drivers know, there’s a stairwell from the freeway to the street.
Perhaps this is a real thing, but even if it’s been made up, I could believe that it was a real thing. A nice touch. Keep the magic close to reality. But this isn’t the most magical part. After Aomame agrees to take the exit, the driver stops her and tells her to remember to not believe everything that she sees. “Not everything is as it appears.”
At that point, I feel as if both myself and Aomame have ventured into a Philip K Dick novel. Once the main character is warned that things aren’t as they seem, the weirdness begins. I got a little shiver. Perhaps the driver was just crazy. Perhaps he’s a part of some cult that was expecting Aomame to hop into that particular vehicle. Or, I don’t know, maybe he’s a wizard that knows amazing things and that was her indoctrination. The mind boggles at the possibilities.
Something small hiding in the midst of the real can making everything around it seem magical which is an art in itself. That tiny mystery can have huge consequences, can unravel a lot for those characters willing to pull. A butterfly flapping its wings causing a hurricane. A boring lit piece about the pain of loneliness, or the solitude of the modern…zzzzzzzzzz. It can be elevated by introducing a strange but small twist, a tiny bit of absurdity in, lets face it, an absurd world.
In fact, I have contempt for the writer who can’t find that magical something in the ordinary. Wasn’t a great poet who said that you can see an entire universe in a grain of sand? The ordinary is anything but, and anyone who is bored by life isn’t trying – or paying attention.
Take this lovely passage I found in an art exhibit about clothes and how they intersect with the written word (the artist had asked people to submit pieces from catalogues, instructions, maps and books and other sources on the subject that someone found salient). I like how much love an care is taken in observing the minute details of the mundane and how it crosses over into the metaphysical, into the ideal world, by caring enough to contemplate how it is connected to the world around it. The name of the exhibit was “Common Place.”
“This is the way the rich material moves: it slides across a breeze as the fabric turns and stretches out like a mammalian glider over the changing density of air beneath its body. The shades of light and dark are emphasized by the lines and creases where the sun catches its outlines. Where the tactile fabric is inverted, shadows are made darker by the turgid grottos and canyons carved carved into the tectonic landscape of its folds.
“One is reminded of the phantom shape of a seated being given corporality by the evolving landscape of heavy cloth that falls and catches around invisible limbs of da Vinci’s youthful studies.” – Program Notes by composer Kate Moore for the cello work “Velvet” performed by Ashley Bathgate at Bang on a Can summer music festival.