This morning I was awakened by my door buzzer at an hour when I was supposed to be in bed. I hastily threw on some clothes, went into the hallway and saw that my neighbor had been awakened too, the sleep still hanging from his eyes (I thought all skydiving dudes wake up at the crack of dawn?) Anyway, I opened the front door to see the local gas and electric company hanging in the bucket off the end of a truck. I waved to the guy, “You buzzed me?” “Yeah,” he said. “We’re shutting of the power for about a half hour.” “Uh, okay,” I said. When you see a man in an orange hat, there’s very little you can do except to trust him. I came upstairs, relayed the news to my neighbor, saying, oh, he said half hour, which really means one hour. But less than twenty minutes later, the power came back on.
For those brief twenty minutes I sat in my apartment, eating breakfast (the gas still worked). I had unplugged my computer just in case, and thought, oh that’s really it. That and the little light above the stove. But after the power went out I had to get something from the refrigerator. I had forgot about that. And I have ceiling fans which have been running continually the entire summer. I had forgotten about them. And the fire alarm with backup battery supply. And the air conditioner (which was off). I just sat there by the window watching the rain.
For that twenty minutes, I missed electricity.
I finally finished Haruki Murakami’s Norwegian Wood last night. It was a struggle to get through because so many characters die of suicide, and Murakami tends to ramble on about things a bit too freely. I also found the characters a little too cold for my tastes, but perhaps that was intentional on his part. For example, the protag, Wantanabe listens to his friend, Reiko, relay the details of their mutual friend, Naoko’s, suicide. When Reiko is finished explaining, Wantanabe says, “Would you like some tea?” These types of unemotional reactions are common throughout, and I wasn’t sure if Murakami was trying to evince my reaction or he was merely reflecting the attitudes of a culture I admittedly know little about. Murakami also seems infatuated with sex (who isn’t?), but I found his view of women unconvincing. Every woman offers herself freely to Wantanabe, giving him hand-jobs left and right to “calm him down” or allowing him to climax without reciprocation. And the women all seem to be very sexually liberated, quite often just blurting their desire for sex with him for no discernable reason. Again, I wasn’t sure if this was the author’s intention or a reflection of the differences in culture.
The book itself has some interesting parts. The most interesting section for me was when Reiko describes her descent back into insanity precipitated by the lesbianic seduction of a young girl she is teaching how to play the piano. More than once in the novel, Wantanabe mentions The Great Gatsby , remarking how he has read it and re-read it ceaselessly, opening randomly to any page and lovingly absorbing the words written there. And I felt Murakami aspired with Norwegian Wood to make a kind of modern Gatsby, not necessarily with the socially elite, but with common Japanese young-adults. Both books end in tragedy, and both have interesting social triangles which come to play more and more as the story goes on. Gatsby comes in at about 150 pages. Norwegian Wood at about 300.
The translator’s note mentions that Murakami intended with this novel to write a “straight, simple story,” and not to ascend off into surreality and metaphor, which pervades his other works. Not having read them, however, I feel this novel suffers from being just that: it’s too straight, too simple. Not the plotlines so much as the characters. At one point in the story Wantanabe and his new friend Midori are drinking beers and watching the neighboring apartment building burn. And that’s what reading this novel felt like. Watching people suffer and die without anyone doing anything about it. This frustrated me, but perhaps it was meant to.