Exhibit 18.7

South of the Border, West of the Sun

Before I talk about the book--and I don't know if I'll have much to say--let me get this out of the way regarding yesterday's post: yes, everyone knows what nugs are except me. How I've been able to watch 90% of the Method Man/Redman vehicle How High in approximately 108 different background viewings during college yet still not glean this information is beyond me. In penance, I'll be listening to Phish all day.

Actually, no, no I won't.

But know that I care. I don't care enough to listen to Phish, but that only proves there might be a chance for me yet.

South of the Border, West of the Sun came out in 1992 but wasn't given an English translation until 2000 when it followed The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, Murakami's most ambitious (and best) novel. I'd avoided South... since the plot description and the quotes on the back of my paperback make it clear the book is Murakami at his most mundane. A boy falls in love with a girl at the age of 12 and, years later when he's already married and comfortable, meets her again and has to choose between love and Love. No ethereal hotels. No sitting at the bottom of a well. No darkness coming in from the seams like in his best work. Even to a person who thinks the worst Murakami is better than just about anything, it sounded a little boring.

I finally broke down when I realized Murakami wrote South... around the same time as The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle. It made me curious how he could have written his best and his worst novel at the same time. The answer: he didn't.

Despite its faults, South... isn't his worst novel, just his most somber. It reminded me quite a bit of "Tony Takitani," a short story of his that was actually made into an (appropriately somber) film a few years ago. As in the story, Murakami's narrator here reaches a comfortable middle age without knowing anything about himself or what he's capable of. It's a common enough conceit in Murakami's work but while it generally sends the narrator so far inside of himself that he ends up outside of reality (or something like that--I don't know), in both "Tony..." and South... what happens is tragic but banal, life altering but familiar enough you'd find a similar story on every city block.

I'm a biased reader, but somehow it works, I think. It doesn't ever reach any great heights, but South... does just enough to make upper-class ennui seem a compelling, at times vital, subject. The redeeming quality seems to be that Murakami's love triangle is sharper than most and, in the end, not really a triangle at all. The narrator loves his childhood friend more than his wife, that's without question, and so the choice shifts from the all too familiar "Should I throw my career, family, comfort away for another woman?" to something about survival. Only after the other woman disappears does he realize what she's known all along: their love isn't about having a life together, it's about dying together.

So for all of the simplicity of the book's plot description, there is something new here, a glimpse of love frozen during those early moments where it seems like the best thing in the world would be to die in each other's arms.

I don't know what's with me and the Youtube videos recently, but this one seems relevant.

Stay tuned as I continue to reinvent literary criticism with my Morrissey-based revelations.

1 comment:

christopher higgs said...

More people need to write criticism through the Morrissey lens. I commend your innovation.