Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Dance Dance Dance (Haruki Murakami)

Reading enough Murakami gives you the feeling that he is profoundly mystified by his own internal workings. If he has a theme, a subject he keeps coming back to, it would have to be people’s essential inability to understand themselves, much less everyone else around them. Characters in his books are always doing things they feel mysteriously compelled to do, unable to explain even to themselves their motivations. The more malevolent characters in his books are often at the mercy of forces both internal and external that seem beyond their control, and even his relatively featureless narrators tend to be troubled by an unknowable presence at the center of themselves that ultimately manifests itself in the world around them. He even devoted an entire novel—the singular Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World—to the story of a man literally disappearing into his own unconscious.

Dance Dance Dance, the sequel to A Wild Sheep Chase, finds the still-unnamed narrator toiling away as a freelance writer—“shoveling cultural snow,” as he calls it—and unable to shake the feeling that he has left something undone at the Dolphin Hotel, where much of A Wild Sheep Chase took place, and that the woman he stayed there with has something vitally important to tell him. Needless to say, particularly for those who have read Murakami before, strange things turn up once he arrives: the small, empty place he stayed at in A Wild Sheep Chase has been replaced by a giant luxury hotel, and after beginning an uncertain sort of relationship with one of the receptionists, he hears stories of an elevator that sometimes opens on dark, otherworldly floors. His quest later leads him to take up with an old school friend, a teenage psychic, her famous parents (one of them a washed-up writer named, amusingly, “Hiraku Makimura”), and, of course, the Sheep Man from the first book.

Dance Dance Dance suffers simply for being an unplanned sequel—almost by definition, it can’t feel as whole and complete as the first book—and although Murakami has keen instincts for when to get the story moving, large stretches go by more or less like this:

Day after day I was thinking about almost nothing. Just swimming and lying in the sun getting tan, driving around the island listening to the Stones and Bruce Springsteen, walking moonlit beaches, drinking in hotel bars.

Murakami’s voice is irresistible, and I’m happy enough to follow as his narrator wanders around, having metaphysical crises and struggling to understand what he wants and what this lost woman is trying to tell him, but at times the story was crying out for a little more urgency. I wouldn’t recommend this one as much as I would the other books I’ve mentioned so far (or the tour de force of The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle), but decent Murakami is still awfully good.

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