Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Murakami's Sleeper

Have you been getting into Murakami too? I’ve been into him for a while now and want to read and reread his works. Eight years ago, some students of mine gave me copies of “Elephant Vanishes” and “South of the Border” after I was recovering from a freak tennis accident. I was immediately drawn into Haruki’s quirky, deeply heartfelt narratives. Whenever I meet a person who loves his writing I get an electric shock, a soul bond pulsing. I won’t brush off somebody who doesn’t like his style or who spurns a story or two.

I’ll admit, I got to this one later than his other works, but frankly I’ve been reading a lot of other writers many of whom I have picked up for the first time. There’s a connection I’m getting at.
“After Dark” is a new style for this cat-loving, marathoner. It’s a fable wrapped into a metafictional world. It’s bold, though I believe many of his disciples are a bit shocked with this experiment.

Here’s my take. Murakami’s “After Dark” borrows the oft-quoted “Sleep per chance to dream” maxim and spins it on its head. The whimsy of the subconscious is traded for a voyeuristic eye. The tone is set from the odd third-person plural POV as Eri Asai is described in what appears as a blissless slumber. Her supine body is alternately viewed as a real image and that of her being viewed from a television monitor. This adds a “Truman Show” effect or perhaps, better still, a “Harrison Bergeron” sensibility.

This is the first time I have noticed a metafictional tone in Murakami’s narrative. He uses it to draw attention to the passive state of Eri Asai. There is the risk of making the passive scenes flat, almost like a writing workshop exercise, but Murakami wisely draws attention to the viewers POV. We see Eri Asai splayed out on the bed, but we don’t slip into her thoughts. There are a few instances of speculated thoughts, but for the most part the descriptions are strictly visual.

These chapters are brief, written like sketches. The meat of the text comes from Eri Asai’s younger sister Mari who is suffering from insomnia. She has veered away from home because she cannot deal with her sister’s bizarre condition and yet Mari is not hyperactive, if anything she is quite pensive. She’s been trying to read her book at an all night Denny’s but keeps getting hassled by Takahashi a young musician who takes time out from his jam session at a nearby basement.

So what’s mondo interesting about all this? Let’s return to the idea of fable for a moment. This is a post modern take on “Sleeping Beauty,” sans all that Disney crap. And who is waiting for this beauty? Has she been violated? Will she be saved? There’s no prince in this picture, but rather a brooding, cockeyed optimist, Mari who wants to snuggle with her sister– as if that will make it all better.

Experimental yes, but a necessary read to get inside Murakami’s head and figure out where he might venture off to next.

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