Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Norwegian Wood Read-Along Week 4: Can I open my eyes now?

All month, I have been striving to appreciate this book. I was the stylishly dressed egg teetering on the narrow wall of tolerance . . . but these last two chapters were the comically oversized boxing glove that delivered the fatal blow.

Me, in happier times.
I will now address my comments to Toru, because he is the reason I rage.

Toru! I made a lot of excuses for your behavior, and you made me wish I had never met you. I thought this was a turning point, when you told off Kizuki's ghost:
"Unlike you, I've chosen to live---and to live the best I know how. Sure, it was hard for you. What the hell, it's hard for me. Really hard. . . . I'm just going to keep on getting stronger. I'm going to mature. I'm going to be an adult. Because that's what I have to do. I always used to think I'd like to stay seventeen or eighteen if I could. But not anymore. I'm not a teenager anymore. I've got a sense of responsibility now. I'm not the same guy I was when we used to hang out together. I'm twenty now. And I have to pay the price to go on living." (p. 248)
Yes to all of the above . . . if only you actually meant any of it. Alas, you pledged your eternal allegiance to a woman who doesn't even love you enough to STAY ALIVE. And Midori was the most tragic casualty of that false sense of responsibility. She was your best chance at a healthy relationship. Don't you think it would have been nice to date a girl who could be trusted near a razor blade? Wouldn't you rather spend your days talking about cookies and kissing in the rain than talking about death and NOT kissing in a sanatorium? DO YOU HAVE ANY SELF-RESPECT AT ALL?

You didn't listen to me, but I hoped you would at least listen to yourself:
"I loved Midori, and I was happy that she had come back to me. The two of us could make it, that was certain. As Midori herself had said, she was a real, live girl with blood in her veins." (p. 267)
But no. Tell me, why do you say these things that sound reasoned and healthy and then DO THE EXACT OPPOSITE?

Your biggest reason for not pursuing this relationship with Midori was that you didn't know how to break the news to Naoko. Well, surprise, Naoko wasn't really thinking about you. She was practicing her rope-tying skills and picking out a tree. Then you were so upset by her death (are you sure you didn't see it coming? DUDE, WE ALL SAW IT COMING) that you left town and slept outdoors and had a pity party for a solid month. And when you chose to run away, you lost Midori again . . . because she DOES have self-respect.

After that, I thought surely you had made all the terrible decisions you could make. I mean, with only four pages left, what else could you do to provoke my wrath?
"We went inside and closed the curtains. Then, in the darkened room, Reiko and I sought out each other's bodies as if it were the most natural thing in the world for us to do." (p. 290)

I give up.

**NOTE: I made a new friend last weekend (Hi, Tommy!) who used to teach Norwegian Wood for a college course. He has posted some essay topics and discussion questions on his blog, and I plan to read them as soon as I can look at the book without screaming. They live here: http://accordprogression.wordpress.com/2012/01/25/conversation-peace-norwegian-wood-by-haruki-murakami/**

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Great Gatsby Read-Along Week 4: My heart, it hurts

So here's the deal, guys. I finished The Great Gatsby, and then I loaned it to a friend. So I no longer have the book, which means all I have are my notes, which means this might be a short post.

Myrtle died violently. I remember that much. This was EXTRA tragic because she thought she was running toward Tom's car and a possible escape from her husband (whose suspicions of her infidelity had driven him to The Bad Place). Instead, she ran right into the path of Gatsby's car, with Daisy at the wheel. Oh, poetic justice . . . you are poetic and just but also kind of a jerk.

I know Daisy was distraught because she had just realized she would have to stay with Tom and actually face the consequences of her choices (and by that I mean her choice to marry Tom . . . she gets away with everything else), but she didn't even stop after she hit Myrtle. And then she let Gatsby take the fall for her by saying HE was driving. And THEN she conspired with Tom to tell Mr. Wilson that it was Gatsby who had been romanticizing Myrtle. So it's HER FAULT Gatsby got shot.
"They were careless people, Tom and Daisythey smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness, or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made." (p. 179) 
I wanted to like Daisy (probably because Gatsby did), but she turned out to be just a bored housewife (with no actual homemaking or child-rearing responsibilities). A poor little rich girl. She didn't even have a great reason for giving up on Gatsby and marrying Tom. She was just young and immature and wanted her life to happen without delay. She made her choices and then blamed everyone else for her unhappiness.

Gatsby was a flawed character, absolutely . . . but I can't help but see him as a victim. A victim first of his poor social standing, then of his hopeless love for Daisy, then of Wolfshiem (who I suspect took advantage of the vulnerable young Gatsby), and, ultimately, of Tom and Daisy's selfishness. He had a foolish need, even at the last, to believe that Daisy never loved another man. But his desperation to believe the best of her finally gave way to harsh reality.
"He must have looked up at an unfamiliar sky through frightening leaves and shivered as he found what a grotesque thing a rose is and how raw the sunlight was upon the scarcely created grass." (p. 161)
"He had come a long way to this blue lawn, and his dream must have seemed so close that he could hardly fail to grasp it. He did not know that it was already behind him, somewhere back in that vast obscurity beyond the city, where the dark fields of the republic rolled on under the night." (p. 180)
So, Fitzy, well done I guess. You kind of ruined my day.


Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Norwegian Wood Read-Along Week 3: Return of the Midori (score by John Williams)

Midori and Toru go out for drinks (at 2 p.m.), and she lets him in on a couple of her latest fantasies. Fantasy #1: Toru undresses her tenderly, like a mother undresses a child (concerning), and then proceeds to corrupt her as she protests delicately (oh hai, rape fantasy). Fantasy #2: She and Toru are kidnapped by pirates and tied together NAKED (naturally) with only 1 hour between them and a long walk off a short plank (1 hour to live? Conveniently naked? Only one thing to do, I suppose.).

Toru's go-to response to these confessions is, "Oh, brother" . . . because that's how teenage boys talk. No. WRONG. That is NOT how teenage boys talk . . . that is how Winnie the Pooh talks.

But Toru grew on me through these three chapters. When he assumes care of Midori's terminally ill father so she can take a sanity break, it's a brief glimpse of how borderline wonderful he is when he's not thinking of himself. He helps the man pee in a jar! He spoon feeds him! He talks to him about Euripides! In short, I have no idea who he is anymore.

One thing that made me give him suspicious face was when he lied to Hatsumi (WHO ALSO KILLS HERSELF WHY HATSUMI WHY?!) about how Kizuki died. I can't think of any good reason why he would do that, unless he didn't want to elicit her pity.

Speaking of Hatsumi (WILL EVERYONE PLEASE STOP COMMITTING SUICIDE YOU'RE MAKING ME SAD), she also brings out Toru's inner tubby bear when she explains that all she wants is to get married and have kids and that Nagasawa will grow to want those things if she just waits long enough.

Maybe this is all Toru can say when a woman in his life announces something so ridiculous that a more elaborate response just won't do. In that case, wisely played, sir. Please accept this jar of honey and my humble apology.

Another sign that Toru is growing into a healthy boy and swimming away from the suicide rip tide everyone else seems to be floundering in is this uncharacteristically mature statement, written in a letter to Naoko:
"Two and a half years have gone by since it happened, and Kizuki is still seventeen years old. Not that this means my memory of him has faded. The things that his death gave rise to are still there, bright and clear, inside me, some of them even clearer than when they were new. . . . Part of what Kizuki and I shared when we were sixteen and seventeen has already vanished, and no amount of crying is going to bring that back." (p. 218)
And then Toru and Midori team up to summarize the whole depressing point of this novel (the context is porn, but isn't it always?):
"'They just keep doing the same things,' I said.
'Well, what else can they do? We all just keep doing the same things.'" (p. 225)
Everyone seems to be stuck in a vicious cycle that goes something like this: angst, sadness, tiny happy moment, depression, selfishness, suicide. Maybe Midori and Toru will be the enlightened two who break away from that permanent rain cloud.

I'm sure if we tried hard enough, we could make a pretty good case for why this novel is a thinly veiled adaptation of The Complete Tales of Winnie the Pooh . . . with more than one Eeyore.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Great Gatsby Read-Along Week 3: The golden s*** hits the fan

This last stretch with Gatsby was pretty stressful. I now have an intense cold, and I'm not saying it's Fitzy's fault . . . but I'm fairly certain it's Fitzy's fault.

Poor Gatsby (how many times am I going to say that before I'm done with this book?). He finally has Daisy in his house, where he can show her how fancy he is. He even flaunts his very full closet of metrosexual attire, which brings her to tears.
"'They're such beautiful shirts,' she sobbed, her voice muffled in the thick folds. 'It makes me sad because I've never seen such---such beautiful shirts before.'" (p. 92)
Because who DOESN'T cry in the presence of pretty clothes?

Any excuse. Any excuse at all.
But this is the beginning of the spell breaking. Daisy has been unattainable for too long, and he's built her up too much in his mind. With her standing next to him, he looks across the bay to the place where the green light at the end of her dock used to be his only connection to her. "Now it was again a green light on a dock. His count of enchanted objects had diminished by one" (p. 93). And the enchantment surrounding Daisy keeps diminishing, because she can't possibly live up to the "colossal vitality of his illusion" (p. 95).

But before he met her, Jay Gatsby (aka James Gatz) couldn't think of anything but breaking into the "universe of ineffable gaudiness" (p. 99; meaning, he wanted to be rich, yo). He shunned his parents in favor of seeking his fortune. He became contemptuous of women, "of young virgins because they were ignorant, of the others because they were hysterical about things which in his overwhelming self-absorption he took for granted" (p. 98). Basically, he was earning his degree in douche-baggery.

Despite ALMOST inheriting $25,000 from a new friend, he hadn't made his fortune yet when he first met Daisy. He didn't STOP pursuing wealth (her parents would never let her marry a poor officer), but I think he started pursuing it more selflessly. She became his entire reason for attaining The Dream, which explains why he's so fixated on her and so determined to turn the clock on their relationship back 5 years, to the day they met. He demands a do-over.

Then Nick says/narrates something infuriatingly cryptic: "I was reminded of somethingan elusive rhythm, a fragment of lost words, that I had heard somewhere a long time ago. For a moment a phrase tried to take shape in my mouth and my lips parted like a dumb man's, as though there was more struggling upon them than a wisp of startled air. But they made no sound, and what I had almost remembered was uncommunicable forever" (p. 111).

This BETTER NOT be uncommunicable forever.

Now that Daisy has sashayed back into Gatsby's life, he once again makes some life changes. He puts an end to the lavish parties (because she doesn't like them) and fires all his servants (because I don't know why). All that's left is for Daisy to give Tom the old heave-ho.

Then, on a scorching hot day at the end of summer, it all goes to hell. Gatsby and Nick go over to the Buchanan household for an incredibly awkward lunch. I'm not sure what the goal of this gathering was (maybe Daisy and Gatsby were ready to wave their love flag under Tom's nose), but I think part of the reason was that Daisy wanted to show Gatsby her daughter. She parades her out for just a moment, as if to say, "Remember this small human I birthed?" Apparently, Gatsby needed the reality check: "Afterward, he kept looking at the child in surprise. I don't think he had ever really believed in its existence before" (p. 117).

Once they're all seated at the table, Gatsby and Daisy do their very worst impression of two people who don't care about each other. Tom isn't the shiniest coin in the piggy bank, but it takes him exactly 5 minutes to ascertain what's going on between them . . . and he doesn't like it one bit.

He doesn't call them out right away, but when the party moves into a stifling suite at the Plaza Hotel, Tom hoists himself onto his self-righteous soapbox.
"I suppose the latest thing is to sit back and let Mr. Nobody from Nowhere make love to your wife. Well, if that's the idea you can count me out. . . . . Nowadays people begin by sneering at family life and family institutions, and next they'll throw everything overboard and have intermarriage between black and white." (p. 130)
WHAT is the world coming to?

But, no matter, because Daisy is leaving Tom. And Gatsby gets a little overconfident and decides to add that she never loved Tom in the first place. Right, Daisy? RIGHT, DAISY?

Crickets. Get it?
Then Tom gets a little overconfident and points out that Gatsby is involved in nefarious activities and is a fraud in general . . . and Daisy shrinks further and further into herself as she realizes that NEITHER of the men she loves are going to provide her the life of marital bliss she so badly wants.

Thus ends the most uncomfortable social gathering in the history of ever. And Nick tells us "that unfamiliar yet recognizable look was back again in Gatsby's face" (p. 134). NICK! What did I tell you about saying things that aren't things? Maybe you should rethink your future as a narrator.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Norwegian Wood Read-Along Week 2: Is crazy contagious?

Raise your hand if you think you were a little too hard on Naoko.

When she was explaining the codependent nature of her relationship with Kizuki, I started to see how his suicide could take a wrecking ball to her life. They had been inseparable since the age of 3, they had their first (and only) sexual experiences together, and their individual egos melted together to make one. But she thinks they somehow cheated the system, and that Kizuki killing himself and her mental breakdown were just the other shoe dropping.
"We didn't pay when we should have, so now the bills are due." (p. 128)
That is NOT a healthy way to look at the situation, as screwed up as it is. But that's not even all! Naoko's older sister killed herself at 17, too. And Naoko, in the sixth grade at the time, was the one who found her dead. From where I'm standing, Naoko has had more than her fair share of tragedy in her 20 years of life. I don't blame her for wanting to sneak quietly away from the world.

And that's exactly what the sanatorium is: AWAY from the world. It's practically a cult, and it doesn't seem designed to prepare patients for reentry to the outside world. Once there, I think it would be hard to ever leave. That's why Reiko has been there for 7 years (P.S. HOW MUCH DO WE LOVE REIKO?). As good as the place has been for Naoko's mental and physical health, I don't have high hopes for her recovering enough to leave. She's like a bird with a broken wing, maybe TWO broken wings.

Let's talk about Reiko. Does she remind anyone else of Midori? Her candid way of talking. The way Toru is instantly drawn to her. Her guitar playing (although Reiko's actually good at it. Poor Midori). She even calls Toru out on his strange way of talking. While Midori compared him to Humphrey Bogart, Reiko (in her infinite wisdom) sees him playing the part of Holden Caulfield. And the story she tells Toru! Lies, seduction, betrayal, a 13-year-old life-ruining lesbian. Someone give that woman a cookie and a hug.

But the way the three of them interact is eerily similar to the threesome that used to be Naoko, Kizuki, and Toru. It's almost as though Reiko has taken Toru's place in the group, Toru has taken Naoko's, and Naoko has taken Kizuki's.
"'When it's raining like this,' said Naoko, 'it feels as if we're the only ones in the world. I wish it would just keep raining so the three of us could stay together.'" (p. 161)

This doesn't bode well. In fact, it suggests that Naoko will not only NOT recover but will follow her sister and Kizuki out of the world in an equally tragic manner.

Continuing Murakami's use of light to make some sort of point, Chapter 6 seems dominated by moonlight and candlelight. This contributes to the dreamlike quality of the days Toru spends at the sanatorium. I think that may also be the reason Chapter 6 was SO VERY VERY long. By the time I got to the end of that chapter, I felt the jarring contrast Toru felt between the peaceful sanatorium and the "normal" world.
"I felt almost as if I had come to a planet where the gravity was a little different. Yes, of course, I told myself, feeling sad: I was in the outside world now." (p. 164)
At one point, Toru compares himself to Jay Gatsby and Naoko to Daisy.
"It was easy to tell which room was hers. All I had to do was find the one window toward the back where a faint light trembled. I focused on that point of light for a long, long time. It made me think of something like the final throb of a soul's dying embers. I wanted to cup my hands over what was left and keep it alive. I went on watching it the way Jay Gatsby watched that tiny light on the opposite shore night after night." (p. 113)
I definitely see Naoko's similarities to Daisy, but I was seeing Toru as more of a Nick Carraway. Maybe he was a Nick when he was with Naoko and Kizuki, but now he is changing to a Gatsby? Anyone have some insight on this?

Either way, I see more sad times ahead. We could start betting on who will kick the bucket next.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Great Gatsby Read-Along Week 2: The plot thickens

I've spent this whole week making the social rounds in my hometown, which I haven't visited since November 2010. I tell you this so you'll have mercy on me when you discover that I can't seem to form a coherent thought. I feel as though I've had too much champagne at a Gatsby party.

Let's do this thing.

I love that Jordan drags Nick all around the mansion looking for Gatsby and then doesn't even tell him that the man of about his age at the table where they sit is, in fact, Gatsby. Good job, Jordan. Way to make it awkward.

So Nick sort of embarrasses himself by talking ABOUT Gatsby TO Gatsby, but at least he doesn't say anything insulting before he knows who he is. For someone who has consumed two bowls of champagne, that's a small miracle.

Speaking of Gatsby gossip, these crazy party guests can't stop talking about the host, but they know absolutely nothing about him and don't really care to find out the truth. As far as they're concerned, "he's just a man named Gatsby" (p. 48) who throws big parties and may or may not have gone to Oxford and may or may not have killed a man---a curiosity, not a human being. And he doesn't seem overly interested in them either. He isolates himself, physically and psychologically.
"I wondered if the fact that he was not drinking helped set him off from his guests, for it seemed to me that he grew more correct as the fraternal hilarity increased." (p. 50)
And that leads nicely into the three-page drunk-driving PSA. The library dude doesn't even make it off Gatsby's property before the friend he came with drives them into a ditch. Then all the party guests have to explain to the wasted driver that his wheel has separated itself from the vehicle and no more driving will be happening. And no one is AT ALL concerned that he's drunk off his rocking horse . . . they just think maybe he shouldn't try driving at night. These people make a pretty good case for prohibition.

This is another moment where Gatsby's isolation is highlighted. While everyone is gathered around the car in the ditch, Nick glances back at the house as he heads home.
"A wafer of moon was shining over Gatsby's house, making the night fine as before, and surviving the laughter and the sound of his still glowing garden. A sudden emptiness seemed to flow now from the windows and the great doors, endowing with complete isolation the figure of the host, who stood on the porch, his hand up in a formal gesture of farewell." (p. 55)
Doesn't that make you want to cry for poor Gatsby? Of course it does. As it should.

So Nick's friendship with Gatsby blooms, but he realizes there's not anything especially unusual about his new friend. "My first impression, that he was a person of some undefined consequence, had gradually faded and he had become simply the proprietor of an elaborate road-house next door" (p. 64).

But, Nicholas, you're so wrong. Gatsby is much more than just a little man in a big house. He DID go to Oxford, and then he hunted things (animals and rubies and other twinklies) and painted things and tried to forget about The Very Sad Thing that happened to him. He also fought things in a war. He even has mob connections. Aren't you sorry you ever doubted him?

There are some hints that he may be engaging in some sort of nefarious activity with a man named Wolfsheim, who really can't be trusted. I mean . . . that NAME. And his cuff links are made from human molars. So there's that.

And The Very Sad Thing (not to be confused with The Terrible Awful) is that Gatsby dated Daisy when he was a lieutenant, and for some reason not yet revealed she married Tom instead. She wasn't thrilled about marrying Tom. In fact, Jordan says that she nearly didn't make it down the aisle and had a ROYAL temper tantrum right before the wedding. But after they returned from their honeymoon, Daisy was so attached to Tom that she couldn't function when he left the room. Intriguing.

Gatsby bought the house across the bay from Daisy so he could keep tabs on her, but he has lived there for 5 years without ever speaking to her. This is a case of something that SHOULD be really creepy but somehow comes off as sweet. I think?

Nick seems to approve of this revelation. "He came alive to me delivered suddenly from the womb of his purposeless splendor" (p. 75). So Nick arranges for Daisy to come over, and Gatsby is finally able to see her without Tom's hulking mass coming between. And whatever they talk about makes Daisy cry and cheers Gatsby up considerably.

Just one more tiny thing before I succumb to sleep's sweet embrace. When Nick is out walking with Jordan, after she tells him about the Gatsby/Daisy saga of doomed love, he has a phrase running through his head: "There are only the pursued, the pursuing, the busy, and the tired" (p. 79). It doesn't make immediate sense in context, but I think it must be important. Sorry . . . that's all I've got on that.

Also, Nick decides without any lead-up that he and Jordan should exit the friend zone, just because he has nothing better to do (or no ONE better to do, as the case may be).
"Unlike Gatsby and Tom Buchanan, I had no girl whose disembodied face floated along the dark cornices and blinding signs, and so I drew up the girl beside me, tightening my arms. Her wan, scornful mouth smiled, and so I drew her up again closer, this time to my face." (p. 80)
It must be love.

*Passes out*

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Norwegian Wood Read-Along Week 1: Death and despair, ahoy!

Greetings from the pit of angst and depression into which Norwegian Wood has tossed me.


What is UP with these kids? As far as I can tell, none of them were beaten or trapped in the cellar as children. And they couldn't have been forced to read Twilight because it didn't exist yet (ah, the good old days). And they're in COLLEGE. High school is for brooding; college is for self-discovery and sowing your wild oats.

Toru is pretty progressive. He's doing loner hipster at a time when everyone else was doing peace-loving hippy. He reads American authors no one else in Japan is reading. His favorite book is The Great Gatsby, which wouldn't be so surprising if this were set in America, but I imagine it's a bit more unusual in '60s Japan. That book is the reason he becomes friends with Nagasawa, "the one person in my world who had read Gatsby" (p. 30) and a shameless womanizer with a pretty awesome girlfriend whom he doesn't even remotely deserve. He's probably also drawn to Nagasawa because of his similarities to Kizuki, the best friend who inexplicably killed himself when Toru was in high school (more puzzling on that later) and the seeming cause of Toru's gloomy outlook on life (and death).

Toru says he went to college in Tokyo to get away from his hometown and "begin a life where I didn't know a soul" (p. 24). Maybe it worked for him for a little while, but where we come into the story, so does Naoko. She embodies all his memories of Kobe and Kizuki, and he starts spending time with her regularly. What a strange relationship they have. She and Toru should know each other well since she dated Kizuki for years.
"The three of us spent a lot of time together, but whenever Kizuki left the room, Naoko and I had trouble talking to each other. We never knew what to talk about. And in fact there was no topic of conversation that we held in common." (p. 23)
When they meet again in Tokyo, they still don't talk. They just walk . . . and walk and walk and walk. And for a long time, she doesn't even let him walk beside her. He just stares at her barrette and her ear and follows her wordlessly around the city.

On her birthday, after they've been walking all over Tokyo for a year, she finally talks . . . and talks and talks and talks, nonstop for 4 hours. But she avoids any mention of Kizuki. After she cries and they share a really awkward sexual experience, in which Toru/Murakami calls Naoko's vagina "her opening" (her OPENING?!), she shuts him out. And then she moves away without telling him. She hits it and quits it, and Toru is left to pine and write letters begging for an explanation. It's an interesting gender role reversal, but Naoko has a typical female reason for leaving: the delicate state of her mental health.

When he meets Midori (the Japanese man sitting next to me on the plane yesterday informed me that this is a common name in Japan; not just a bright green liqueur, folks!), she provides a stark contrast to Naoko. For one thing, she is afflicted with verbal diarrhea. Where Naoko was quiet and withdrawn around Toru, Midori is more than willing to share her life story AND talk about sanitary napkins. Her age shows in some of the overdramatic statements she makes ("I had a perm this summer and it was just awful. I was ready to kill myself," p. 50), but she is fairly perceptive. She has Toru figured out from the beginning and repeats some of his more ridiculous statements back to him.
"'Nobody likes being alone. I just hate to be disappointed.' You can use that line if you ever write your autobiography." (p. 51)
Also quite perceptive on her part: "You make it obvious you don't care whether people like you or not. That makes some people mad" (p. 70). (Psst, it's because he's a Japanese hipster.)

Sailor Moon: The OTHER Japanese hipster.
I hope you weren't getting your hopes up about Midori being a regular, vibrant freshman girl, because she is just as much of a broken doll as EVERY SINGLE OTHER CHARACTER. For the most part, her problems seem trivial. She's bitter about having been the only middle-class student at her all-girl, richie-rich high school. Yeah, that would be annoying, but at least her parents cared enough about her to scrape together the money for a good education. She complains that her family's bookstore isn't cool enough, which is also a nonproblem. Her mom died of cancer, which is not trivial. But she says she wasn't sad when her mom died, so I don't think that's what screwed her up. Her dad said he wished she and her sister had died instead of their mother . . . and then moved to Uruguay. See, THIS is an actual problem. Many a psychologist would say her daddy issues are the cause of her warped view of love. And what IS love according to Midori?
"I'm looking for selfishness. Perfect selfishness. Like, say I tell you I want to eat strawberry shortcake. And you stop everything you're doing and run out and buy it for me. And you come back out of breath and get down on your knees and hold this strawberry shortcake out to me. And I say I don't want it anymore and throw it out the window. That's what I'm looking for." (p. 76)

But one last thing. WHY did Kizuki kill himself? People generally have a reason for doing such a permanent thing, even if it's a dumb reason justified by hormones and acne. I mean, one minute, Toru and Kizuki are playing billiards "in a mood of total friendship," and the next, his parents are finding him dead in the garage. He "had left no suicide note, and had no motive that anyone could think of" (p. 24). But Naoko seems to have a lot of guilt associated with his death, which weighs so heavily on her when she is around Toru that she has to quit school and enter a sanatorium. Mystery! Intrigue!

Look there, on the horizon. I think I see GIANT THUNDERCLOUDS OF EMOTIONAL AGONY coming our way.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Great Gatsby Read-Along Week 1

I'm participating in a loverly read-along hosted by Wallace at Unputdownables. Any excuse to reread The Great Gatsby is an excuse I will take and put in my pocket and use to justify all decisions.

In addition to my posthumous love affair with The Hemingway, I am also quite partial to The Fitzgerald. Hemingway is the one who will whisk me away to Paris and buy me lots of alcohol and maybe get into a brawl to defend my honor.

Fitzy is the one who sees romantic comedies with me and knows how I take my coffee and reads me poetry in bed.

Together, they make the perfect man. Unfortunately, their separate vices combined would create the most poisonous alcoholic yet known to the world.

Moving right along.

I haven't read Gatsby since college, and, although I remember loving it, I don't remember much else. This time around, I read the first 45 pages twice because the language is so DELICIOUS. Our Fitzy sure can turn a phrase. And he has a way of getting straight to the point whilst pouring flower petals and confetti all over the pages. It shouldn't be possible, but there it is.

This is the part where I say, if you haven't read Gatsby yet, WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR? And also, maybe stop reading this post because I'm about to get a little spoiler-happy up in here.

First of all, Nick Carraway. What a dear he is. I love his description of himself as someone who is willing to reserve judgment and hear people out, even when he wishes they would refrain from oversharing. As he says, "Reserving judgments is a matter of infinite hope" (p. 2). Such a simple act, yet impossible for most people to manage. So I'm already thinking Nick is a tiny bit superhuman. And perhaps it's that quality in Nick that draws him to Gatsby, whom he describes as having "an extraordinary gift for hope, a romantic readiness such as I have never found in any other person and which it is not likely I shall ever find again" (p. 2).

So there you have it. Two spectacular male characters. Oh, and then there's Tom Buchanan, "one of those men who reach such an acute limited excellence at twenty-one that everything afterward savors of anticlimax" (p. 6). And maybe THAT explains why he's stepping out on his wife, Daisy: simply for the thrill of it.

But what about Daisy? Frankly, I worry about her. There's something about her forced cheer and nervous energy that warns of an impending emotional breakdown. She puts on a brave face, but her social efforts are a bit manic. And in her first conversation with Nick, the cracks start to show. "Well, I've had a very bad time, Nick, and I'm pretty cynical about everything" (p. 16). You see, she knows about Tom's "woman in New York," the lovely (?) Myrtle Wilson. He doesn't even try to hide it. And Myrtle is about as different from Daisy as any woman could be, as different as a myrtle bush is from a wild daisy.

And Myrtle is unhappily married, too, and kind of disgusting in her desperation to be more than she is in the social/wealth equation. How this incredibly materialistic woman ever ended up with a lowly mechanic she can't stand, living above a garage, I don't know. But "Tom's the first sweetie she ever had" (p. 35), so she's not a TERRIBLE person, right? Right? Barf.

Let's end this post on a more positive note that doesn't paint such a dismal view of marriage. Let's talk about Gatsby: the man, the myth, the legend. He invites hoards of people to his mansion for these elaborate parties, and bunches more just show up without invitations, but few actually meet him because they don't really care about the host so much as all the free booze and food. And he just stands demurely on the sidelines and watches as the crowd goes from drunk to drunker to absolutely pissed. And he has a "high Gothic library, panelled with carved English oak, and probably transported complete from some ruin overseas" (p. 45), full of books he hasn't read. And he may or may not have killed a man. Oh, Gatsby. You're a head scratcher . . . but still a delight.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Norwegian Wood Read-Along: Horizons, prepare to be expanded!

This post officially begins my participation in Alice the Reading Rambo's January read-along. I am a read-along virgin. Please be gentle, Norwegian Wood.

This is also my first foray into Murakami territory. I must confess, I'm not generally excited about Asian fiction . . . probably because it really bothers me when I can't pronounce the characters' names. And I've read so much British lit that my inner narrator has a British accent by default.

I know next to nothing about Murakami, but look at this guy:

The sweater jauntily thrown about his shoulders tells me we are destined to be friends. Also, he appears to be taking his kitten shopping for an Oriental rug. Sold.

I'll be posting weekly as I journey through with the other super-awesome read-along participaters. If you haven't read Norwegian Wood yet and don't wish to have it spoilerized, avert thine eyes from posts with "Norwegian Wood" in the title. Just say no. I promise I won't cry . . . much.

Onward, brave adventurers!