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Archive for November, 2011

On “The Marriage Plot”

I was looking forward to this one, having liked “Middlesex,” and of course, the story of an English major, incurably romantic, floundering headlong into life, did resonate for me. I had read the same books as she, struggled with the same incomprehensible jargon in certain classes, written similar papers, wondered what to do with my degree – so I felt some affinity for the heroine. Alas, the idea of the marriage plot as a plot element, was slighted by other concerns (mostly anatomical, I think) of the author.  The study of the manic-depressive, Leonard, is certainly well done, and might have made a better book with that as its main purpose (I was almost reminded of Nathan from “Sophie’s Choice”).  I wanted more thinking, examining, shifting perspectives on marriage as a plot element. Instead, it gets an unearned mention toward the end of the book, something Mitchell remembers he and Emily discussing, a discussion which the reader was never privy to, and which comes across as a tacked-on nod to the book’s title, with little real meaning. Eugenides can write and some things were good – the parental relationships, Leonard’s mental state, the classroom scenes. But on the whole, I was disappointed.

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Murakami’s latest

I had heard vaguely that Haruki Murakami had a new book out and when a Thanksgiving guest (thanks, Bonnie!) showed up with it, I started to read a few pages to see if it would interest me – and it did! I got through nine chapters before I had to surrender the book and now can’t wait to get hold of it. 1Q84 – has all of Murakami’s strengths – the minimalist, yet brilliant prose (sly and hypnotic); meticulous control of events for some mysterious purpose that keeps the pages turning; a bemused everyman narrator; enigmatic, yet well-realized women characters.  According to the publisher, it is a “mind-bending ode to Orwell’s 1984,” but I haven’t gotten far enough along to verify anything but the mind-bending part.  I’m sure I read an excerpt in the New Yorker (Town of Cats) recently and didn’t much care for it, now set within it’s proper context, I am thrilled with the novel’s potential.

My experience with Murakami goes back to a fascinating New Yorker story which I still think of:  Sleep, from 1992- in which a housewife stays up all night, every night, reading and re-reading Anna Karenina. By not sleeping, she seems to get outside of time, to achieve the impossible –  by cheating sleep, perhaps she is cheating death? – an attempt that ends in defeated delirium, of course.  When I received the Complete New Yorker as a gift, one of the first things I did was to try to track down that story; I had a suspicion that the author must be Murakami, and I was right!

I believe I have read most of his short stories and a few of his novels, plus his nonfiction book about the Tokyo gas attacks (Underground) and a New Yorker article about him. I don’t think I’ve read The Wild Sheep Chase, so maybe I’ll move it to the top of my queue. I know I read Norwegian Wood, and I think I read Sputnik Sweetheart and the Wind-Up Bird Chronicle.  Kafka on the Shore sounds familiar, but I’m not sure. I think I need a better method for my personal bibliography!

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