Saturday, October 24, 2015

'You could never get away from yourself'

This had to be the seventh Murakami book I've read since I was seventeen. Back then, there are only two authors whose works I faithfully consumed. One was Murakami-sensei, the other was Chuck Palahnuik. Both have exceptional writing styles that stay with you and often haunt your days and nights if you allow them. I remember reading a Murakami anthology (The Elephant Vanishes) but since it was only a borrowed copy from the library, I never got to finish (I plan on re-reading that next year). This is the second anthology I was graced with and it was composed of six measly short fictions that are, in the truest Murakami sense, irresistibly consuming. The theme for this collection deals with the catastrophic 1995 Kobe earthquake and the lives of his characters who have to cope in its wake. 

Each of the stories had protagonists who are already so immersed in wanton longing and abandonment, and it was only after a disaster took that place that they became even more uncomfortably acquainted with their mortality, as well as their ultimate irrelevance in the grander scheme of the cosmos. But there's hope of course. Losing themselves to oblivion has to occur only so they regain stability and purpose once more as soon as the dust settled and changed the course of their destinies forever. Passages of existential crisis for me have always been Murakami's strongest quality in writing after all. The following stories that are comprised of After the Quake are UFO in Kushiro, Landscape with flatiron, All God's Children can Dance, Thailand, Super-frog Saves Tokyo, and Honey Pie.

"I want to write about people who dream and wait for the night to end, who long for light so they can hold the ones they love. But right now I have to stay here and keep watch over this woman and this girl. I will never let anyone--not anyone--to try and put them into that crazy box--not even if the sky should fall or the earth crack open with a roar."

Three out of the six stories struck me as very memorable and meaningful. First is UFO in Kushiro that told the story of a man named Komura whose wife had ran away because she accused him of being an empty vessel. In her own words: "Living with you was like living with a chunk of air." Trying to adjust to this abrupt abandonment and now feeling even emptier than usual, he goes to deliver a package to his sister, a box whose contents he was curious to find out but never got to. 

The second story that I thoroughly enjoyed was Thailand. A young doctor named Satsuki travels to a foreign place, accompanied by an insightful cab driver who introduced her to a fortune-teller during her stay. Satsuki's symbolic dreams reveal the suffering she has carried with her, a weight that makes it unable for her to escape her doom, no matter how much she traveled because there is simply no way one can get away from oneself. Murakami's prose for both stories explored a human being's tendency to erase themselves or become less than what they are in fear of never becoming whole again. 

Both Komura and Satsuki gain a newfound perspective about who they are once they were able to free themselves from the torment and distraught that their respective spouses have inflicted on them. Komura learns he is important regardless what his wife had said, while Satsuki is finally able to put to rest her vengeful thoughts about her husband. The symbolic use of the earthquake as a catastrophe that transforms lives was fully realized in the third story that is the most surreal of the six.

Super-Frog Saves Tokyo was about Katagiri, an ordinary man whose assistance was required by a six-foot frog who claimed that they are the only ones who can stop an attack underground permeated by a large worm who apparently has just woken up and was about to throw a tantrum fit which will destroy the city. Katagiri agrees in spite of hesitation and the battle between the two creatures was definitely something worth reading that I won't spoil here in the review. 

The other three stories of the collection were just as unique and contemplative and I think out of those least three favorites, I can recommend All of God's Children Can Dance most of all. It simply reads like an amusing coming-of-age story due to its awkward and unassuming young protagonist Yoshiya, who is dealing with his strenuous pseudo-Oedipal relationship with his beautiful mother who claims he was the second coming of Christ, but later on he also comes to terms with the real identity of his estranged father, and how to talk to him and make him understand. Before he could make that choice, he witnesses an earthquake happening from a distance where he stood in shock.

In a nutshell, After the Quake is a worthwhile read filled with retrospective tales and the lonely characters that inhabit them. I don't consider it as one of Murakami-sensei's strongest works, but the three stories that became my favorites are at least worth checking out for yourself.


Saturday, October 10, 2015

Three Important Words In Any Language

I bought this book first, but the very first Charles Yu work I've read was my next purchase which was How to Live in a Science Fictional Universe. I could never begin to tell you just how madly in love I was with it from start to finish. You can read my review about it in case you're curious. Now, if I sit still for a moment and think about it again for a whole minute, I might get lost inside my own head and never recover. The only reason I bought this other book was because of one of the quoted reviews in the back page cited that if I'm a fan of the cult NBC show Community, then this one is definitely my cup of tea. And I can agree with that some extent. The truth is, if it wasn't for that reference to my all-time favorite sitcom, I never would have even bothered looking for Yu's novel in the first place. Also, if I happened to read this first before How To Live, I'm afraid I might just put this author aside which would be a damn shame because How To Live was one of the most amazing literary experiences I have ever had which touched the geekiest parts of my soul. 

That being said, this collection entitled Sorry Please and Thank You wasn't like How To Live in a Science Fictional Universe. For one thing, it's an anthology of twelve stories, and a few of them are so convoluted and ridiculous but they still manage to be delightfully imaginative. His conceptual work of the plots (or a lack of any plot at all) can be gratingly incomprehensible one moment, and terribly poignant and heartbreaking the next. What was common between the two books had to be the overall style and delivery. There is no doubt that they are definitely penned by the same writer whose sense of humor and wit are mystifyingly outstanding and unique. At their best, these same qualities could make up for the flaws in his storytelling for some of the pieces. 

Writing-wise, Charles Yu has the kind of voice that speaks a language you and I may not understand at first until we listen to it without distractions as we try to analyze how he communicates or attempts it with us--and why sometimes he often fails. Only then can readers unravel the secret pain and wish fulfillment in his written words that are so wrapped up in his ramblings about how a few people in this world ever really learned to talk and respond to him in the same manner. But those that do speak his language and are willing to form a dialogue with him will find a ready friend and confidant in Yu's comfortable and unassuming lead characters. They are often just him role-playing through a piece, much like a lonely child creates magic and mystery as he plays by himself while adults look on, both amused and worried of the stories he comes up with.

Only three stories truly stood out for me as magnificent pieces in this collection; the rest are products of the deranged, quirky and absurd writings of a most puzzling man who indulges in his whimsical passages with disregard for harmony and structure. Yu is far too fanciful with the other stories that it's hard for me to take them seriously, let alone have some sustained interest in them. However, as critical as I am about his overall lack of literary restraint, and slightly appalled by his chaotic compositions for Sorry Please and Thank You, I will attest that he has quite the huge talent and potential to become, well, even crazier and uninhibited in his storytelling. His prose is never stilted, never dishonest or bland. Charles Yu will tell you a story and you will hate him for how he tells it but he will make you feel something as if you have never lived until you heard/read what he has to say. And so, ultimately, what he offers in this anthology may be so disparaging and irregular, so imperfect and so laughably disturbing and fucking preposterous but you are guaranteed to become a duly impressed, captivated audience. I have never read a writer who had laid bare his soul and all its contents--the broken trinkets and the precious suffering--and still remain so genuinely innocent and clueless about the darkness and void he had treaded without heed or caution; and all because his imagination has no strings or a cage big enough to enclose it.

This may not have the powerful resonance of How To Live in a Science Fictional Universe but Sorry Please Thank You is just as exceptional; it has never been tedious or dull and there are interesting details to each story that can be quite enjoyable to re-read again. As for the three stories I truly loved in this anthology, they are Standard Loneliness Package, Hero Receives Major Damage and Open. These stories were deconstructions about humanity's awkward relationship with death, destiny and identity respectively, and Yu did not hesitate to tug that seam repeatedly to show us what could be lurking underneath our insecurities about them until the entire thing frayed. I also liked Inventory, Note to Self and Designer Emotion because the style and approach to said pieces managed to be inventive and hilarious all at once. Others like Troubleshooting and The Book of Categories are laborious to write since they parody the content of technical manuals with a humorous twist, and no other writer but Charles Yu could pull it off. I simply believe the man is absolutely bat-shit insane and I think that's why I enjoy reading his stories so much even when they confound me to no end!