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Did we create any Murakami fans? I hope so.

March 29, 2010

I was hesitant upon arrival to Book Club on Saturday. Tucked under my arm was a worn copy of Haruki Murakami’s A Wild Sheep Chase.  My love for Murakami started while I was living in Japan. In a Tokyo bookstore, I found a copy of Murakami’s short story collection The Elephant Vanishes in English. An important find. When I finished reading that, I spent entirely too much money to order more Murakami from amazon.com and had it shipped right to my apartment…where I reveled in the awesomeness of reading this celebrated Japanese author while breathing Japanese air. Of course, we all have authors who speak to us at important times in our life. And we have books that are important because of who we are when we read them. Murakami is this author for me.

But he’s postmodern – surreal, bizarre, metaphysical. (Yeah, I know. You’ve heard me rant about these same things in some of the other books I’ve read in this journey. But don’t you see? I’m already sold on him. He is so much more than just a book to me.) He’s not your plotted popular novelist with clear beginnings, middles, and ends. He can be tough to navigate. And in A Wild Sheep Chase the main character is searching over the Japanese countryside for a sheep that currently resides inside his long-lost friend The Rat. Yeah, that’s right. The sheep embodies people – either to create a mental stronghold or just as transport. And then the main character is visited by a man in a homemade sheep suit called The Sheep Man who may or may not be a real man. But he’s almost-maybe not a real sheep?

You get the picture.

But I thought (how naive of me) that I would walk into Book Club and have to slog through dissatisfaction.  I was armed to defend Murakami. I think I practiced this sentence over and over on the drive over while “Eye of the Tiger” was playing on my radio, “Yeah, Murakami isn’t for everyone. But I guarantee everyone can find a book of his they love. Try Norwegian Wood or The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle. Just don’t give up on him!”

Stupid Shelbi. How DARE I even for a millisecond underestimate my Book Club?!? Have I learned nothing from them? Aren’t these women my friends? And wasn’t this book group purposefully crafted with really smart and witty people? Yes. Yes. They got it. As a matter of fact, they were so insightful that they repeatedly made me feel like I hadn’t read close enough. They’re pulling out Pynchon references and symbolic connections. For a minute I got to be the resident historian about Japan’s bubble-economy, but after that, I didn’t need to do a thing. “Eye of the Tiger” faded to a nice melodic version of “Sakura-Sakura” on the koto.

Anyway, if any of you are thinking of making a jump into the wild-wild world of Murakami, here are some thoughts on A Wild Sheep Chase. It’s not my favorite Murakami and so I don’t think it would make a fantastic introduction into his oeuvre. However, fans of Murakami will find the themes familiar — unnamed-thirty-something-slightly-depressed protagonist goes on a meandering adventure. That’s about as much plot as I can describe…except that, right, the guy is looking for a sheep that doesn’t exist physically…except for when he exists physically. Certainly the magical realism exists there (all the sheep stuff) and you can’t read Murakami expecting a complete and satisfying ending. Although, I did find this particular ending was a little bit more wrapped up than most. If you want to relax and fly through a quick read, and just bask  in beautiful language — with small vignettes that have nothing to do with the book, but that are powerful on their own — then pick this book up. I know that every person left Book Club with an appreciation for this master of the bizarre, even if they may not consider themselves “completionists” (a word routinely used in the gaming community…but I’m adopting in for Book Club because gamers can’t have all the fun new words). 

Look at all that amazing Murakami discussion happening! Books open...contemplative looks...evidence of successful wine drinking.

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