Thu 15 Jun 2006
In the intervening decade, I have forgotten almost everything about this novel, so it’s like getting to read it for the first time, twice.
I really, really like this book. Mediocre advertising and publicity hack gets a new girlfriend with magical ears and goes on exactly what the title avers: a wild sheep chase. It’s a bizarre and sleepy little accidental-metaphysical-adventure story with snappy dialogue, but it’s also not afraid to remind us that our lives are pretty much altogether unremarkable. When the remarkable intrudes, yes, the mediocre hero dives in with both feet, but only after working out a deal to protect some aspects of his own unremarkable life. Rather than be carried away by it all, he resists, and he remains pretty mediocre throughout.
By mediocre, I should note, I do not mean the quality or entertainment value of the book. The hero has it explained to him, very carefully and purposefully, that he is mediocre in all ways: mediocre job, mediocre looks, mediocre apartment, mediocre cat. His weird-ass adventure, the titular chase, takes him on rides through unremarkable countryside and to a really dusty and boring little town. As fantastical as it all is, it’s also utterly devoid of razzle-dazzle, special effects or a sense that any moment the entire cast and setting could be lifted into orbit by its own satisfaction with itself.
And yet, he still has all these remarkable things that happen to him, and remarkable things he does. He is in no way mediocre, but in all ways mediocre.
I really like it. My own life has had its share of small adventures – KJ and me, standing outside in St. Petersburg (the one in Russia) smoking Nat Shermans late at night, or the time Mr. Saturday and Becca and Johnathan and I drove to Louisiana on a lark, or the time Deadblob and I tried to infiltrate a certain stone edifice, or the time The Boyf and I wandered across a meth lab when we were out house-hunting. Yes, they were adventures in that they were outside my day-to-day frame of reference, they expanded my experience, they stuck firmly in my memory (I still remember the taste of the unlit clove cigarette clenched between my teeth as Deadblob and I ran through the woods, away from said edifice, when the caretaker returned home), but throughout them all I remained a fairly mediocre person experiencing remarkable things. The thing is, I’m OK with that. To say that the average of our lives is, well, average, doesn’t take away from those experiences. Rather, I think it enhances them by way of creating contrast.
Actually, if I’m really honest, I think I’ve had a pretty singular life in a lot of ways. I haven’t been to many foreign countries, I haven’t done a lot of things other people have, but a lot of the things I’ve done have likewise not been done by many, and it’s those things that shape us and mold us, not what we have for breakfast every morning. Still, I really enjoy the novel, and I like the chance to change my perspective for a while. Murakami goes to great lengths to describe what seems like an utterly average landscape in an utterly unmemorable decade (the 1970’s) with stark descriptions that still manage to paint complete pictures. He has that gift for giving the reader just enough details that their brain fills in all the rest. And, truly, that’s some sweet dialogue. And I’m a sucker for first-person narration.
At any rate, I’ll be done with it this weekend. The Boyf is out of town for four days visiting relatives, and despite cable and kittens and World of Warcraft and what’s shaping up to be a pretty lively Saturday, I feel utterly at a loss for what to do with myself in his absence. So I’ll probably read (and pet kittens, and play WoW).