Thursday, May 1, 2014

Prayer: What Gives?

Bless me, Father, for I have sinned: I don't pray anymore. 

That is, I don't know how to pray anymore.

I was raised Roman Catholic, which is an enormously popular religion, but over time I have observed that the Roman Catholic philosophy pretty much amounts to this sequence from Monty Python and the Holy Grail:

In my youth I so overwhelmed myself with Catholic psychological self-flagellation that I eventually Romanticized the concept of my own suicide, and fortunately before I blew my brains out or drained my death into a small bathtub I found a few writers whose writings were nourished by a philosophy of living life productively, wisely, and with an eye toward the god and the beast within—striving for internal and external betterment here on Earth and letting the existential chips fall where they may upon the ever-after.

So now church is pretty much out of my life, for between the lines of nearly everything said and sung there I've found a face-drubbing denial of the idea that life could ever be lived boldly, as a celebration of itself, and hearing all that life-hate now makes me sad and angry—and also bored.

But I can't seem to get rid of prayer. If Catholicism is a family home I've walked away from, then prayer is the family pet that has followed me into the world, biting me at the cuff of my trousers in a plea to at least keep me company in the lonely wilderness.

I have personal proof and disproof that prayer works—I have had prayers miraculously answered and sobbingly ignored—and frankly I still do it, pray, or at least try sometimes, because it's what I do when there's nothing else I can do.

That is, extremely rarely.

My belief in prayer—the reason I tolerate the ankle-biting dog—is because I truly believe in the idea that we are all connected somehow. I believe there are connections between us that haven't been discovered by scientists yet, and it is because of that interconnection that I believe it is possible for prayer to have actual benefits in this world.

Additionally, prayer, or at least the kind of praying I do, allows me to center my thoughts on the things I find most important, which, even if there are no undiscovered "connections" between all living things, still has the benefit of letting my subconscious mind deeply consider how to best serve the most important aspects of my life.

Was it Prometheus or prayer that brought us the gift of controlled fire?

Nevertheless, nearly everything I've said so far is based on nonscientific conjecture, so please know I understand that these ideas stand on a very sandy foundation, but please also understand that people wrote about being able to fly long before airplanes were invented (on a beach).

What I'm really trying to get around to, however, is, supposing my nonscientific conjectures above are accurate, and a properly prayed prayer can affect my or another person's life, what exactly, then, should I be praying about?

The answer, despite how easy the task sounds at the outset, is more difficult to discover than I first thought.

For instance, let's say my fictional friend Rosemary announces her first pregnancy. You would think that, among other things, because I value Rosemary's friendship and happiness, I should pray for the health of the mother and the father and the baby, but what if, at that time, Rosemary is, for whatever reason, not ready to be a mother, and ends up passing on a lot of her worst attributes to a child that eventually kills itself when it's fifteen? And it turns out that what I really should have been praying for was for Rosemary to have several miscarriages before finally successfully birthing a baby that, because of the miscarriages, she takes much more seriously and loves much more fully, and does everything she can to—.

How can I know what to pray for? If I pray for "the best possible outcome," how do I know if that won't involve me or my loved one going through something horrific, or even just extremely tedious and boring, in order to figure out something that proves to—? I highly value wisdom in people, but if I pray for "wisdom" it's the same thing: Both Jesus and Buddha went through the Highs and the Lows of the human experience, and if I am wishing wisdom upon someone I am partly wishing them ill fortune, with, at the bottom of that particular Pandoran Box, Tenacity playing the role of Hope.

Either way, it's kind of fucked.

Because if I pray for someone "to be happy," then sure, you'd think that would mean that things would go their way: They'd get that job, buy that house, have that baby, win that lottery . . . but happy people are content, and content people don't challenge themselves, and happy, content, unchallenged people are some of the worst company in the world.

I would be praying for my loved ones to become unbearable to me.

There are no free lunches: Every step forward we make is because we are chased by death. I've never met a piece of wisdom that entered my soul painlessly.

So what should I be praying for?

My mother has always told me to "put it in God's hands"—meaning I should be praying for God's will to be best served.

Sometimes it is cathartic to imagine putting all of my troubles into God's hands, and sometimes that makes me feel like I am some sort of existential puppet. And I don't want to feel that way, so I need something else to pray for.

It's hard for me to even pray for anything extremely broad, like, "For Life!" Because after all, debilitating diseases—parasites, viruses, and bacteria—are all technically alive. Would I be unintentionally praying for them to thrive as well?

Or does God or The Godly Aspect Of The Human Brain know what we really mean through seeing between the lines and looking at the heart and spirit of our prayers? Is the goodness of my intentions enough, or should I be enlisting the aid of linguists and philosophers to get the wording exactly right?

But what is the wording anyway!

Perhaps I have figured it out:

"I pray that I and my loved ones are given sufficient strength to endure the perils that precede improvement."

But wait: no. That prayer is heavily shaped toward my own, limited viewpoint, so in other words I would be summoning transcendent powers in order to quash my own psychological projections.

A wasted invocation.

How about this?

"Dear God, Read my heart and help me fill in the gaps."

Hmm. Not bad. It's a chance to momentarily reverse the relationship—for The Puppet to hand an enigma back to The Puppetmaster.

I like it.

But would God? The human billions? The trillion others?

Will it suffice?

I don't know. I'll try it and also keep searching, for these are increasingly desperate times, and more and more my hands are forming steeples.

Nothing else has worked.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

The 2 Greatest Words In The English Language: Book Reviews!

I read like most Americans eat—that is, a whole lot. And so here are some reviews of what I've been mentally chewing and digesting and pooping lately.

A Curtain of Green and Other Stories, by Eudora Welty

"She's always had anything in the world she wanted and then she'd throw it away. Papa-Daddy gave her this gorgeous Add-a-Pearl necklace when she was eight years old and she threw it away playing baseball when she was nine, with only two pearls."
—Eudora Welty, from "Why I Work at the P.O."

I had read that a favorite author of mine (David Foster Wallace) considered Welty's short story "Why I Work at the P.O." to be worth reading, and rather than sit down and read the entire story right there in the bookstore like a cheap bastard, I bought this collection. Review: I started with "The P.O." and found it compelling and charming and proceeded from the beginning and then stopped reading halfway through the book because other than "Why I Work at the P.O." I didn't give a shit about anything I read, and I can't believe no editors ever caught and tried to fix Eudora Welty's distracting overuse of similes and metaphors that don't even pack that much poetic punch, like a writer who uses too many similes and metaphors in her writings. 

The Brontes: Selected Poems, edited by Juliet Barker

"There should be no despair for you
While nightly stars are burning,
While the evening pours its silent dew
And sunshine gilds the morning.

There should be no despair, though tears
May flow down like a river:
Are not the best beloved of years
Around your heart forever?"
—Emily Bronte, from "Sympathy"

I borrowed this book from the woman I've been dating, because I enjoyed some poems by Emily Bronte that I read on a Poetry App I downloaded on my phone. The story of the Bronte siblings is truly tragic, and they were all quite capable writers, but my reader's heart felt the fairest and most recognizable poetic winds were blown from the Emily direction. That broad could really write.

"The Yellow Wallpaper" and Other Stories, by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

"If a physician of high standing, and one's own husband, assures friends and relatives that there is really nothing the matter with one but temporary nervous depression—a slight hysterical tendency—what is one to do?"
—Charlotte Perkins Gilman, from "The Yellow Wallpaper"

Speaking of broads who could write! The titular story in this collection is now one of my favorite short stories I've ever read—I who love a good mindfuck. The whole book has a wonderful and easy flow to the reading, with a sort of Ayn Randian aspect to the melodramatization of the antagonists, which I was fine with, even though, as a man, I was usually the antagonist. Which I think speaks to the quality and style of the writing itself. If there's an afterlife and I get to meet Charlotte Perkins Gilman, I'll probably be like, "Yellow Wallpaper—fuck yeah!"

The Prophet, by Khalil Gibran

"For even as love crowns you so shall he crucify you. Even as he is for your growth so is he for your pruning. Even as he ascends your tenderest branches that quiver in the sun, so shall he descend to your roots and shake them in their clinging to the earth."
—Khalil Gibran, from The Prophet

The third title in the triumvirate of books I've read so far that were given to me for Christmas by the woman I've been dating, I was quite impressed by this book. I celebrate literature that can transcend genres, and Gibran's The Prophet is at once a work of Theology, Philosophy, Prose, and Poetry. Additionally, it felt to me like a healthy thing to have let Gibran's unusual thought-waters crash into the dry continent of my own philosophy. Bonus points for the unintentional comedy of the way all the chapters are set up. "And then a woman holding a book said, 'Prophet, tell us about the next book...'" 

Detective Made Easy, by John Swartzwelder

"I know scientists theorize that all of the ideas in the universe, including both political opinions and all three movie ideas, were thought of in the first five seconds after the universe was created."
—John Swartzwelder, from Detective Made Easy

The most recent of comedy legend John Swartzwelder's ongoing, self-published sci-fi/humor series about blissfully inept detective Frank Burly (and Burly's metaphysical misadventures), Detective Made Easy was once again a work of comedic wizardry on Swartzwelder's part. To me, his books are so funny they are a combination of a joy to read and an abdominal workout.

Hawaii, by James Michener

"Millions upon millions of years ago, when the continents were already formed and the principal features of the earth had been decided, there existed, then as now, one aspect of the world that dwarfed all others. It was a mighty ocean, resting uneasily to the east of the largest continent, a restless ever-changing, gigantic body of water that would later be described as pacific."
—James Michener, from Hawaii

A fellow avid reader had previously recommended Michener's Alaska to me, which I then chewed through greedily, so I bought this book as a non-contiguous sister to Alaska and because I'd read somewhere that it was one of the best offerings from James Michener's enormously prolific oeuvre. And once again, I really enjoyed my trip through Michener's slick pages. The brightness of his idea of creating breathing biographies of geographical places is matched perfectly by the same author's own talents in pulling that idea off in a way that produces such fascinating literature. And bonus points for the fact that both Alaska and Hawaii feature scenes where grown men have sex with young teenage girls.

Fear and Loathing at Rolling Stone, by Hunter S. Thompson

"...fuck the tourists, dead-end the highway, zone the greedheads out of existence, and in general create a town where people could live like human beings, instead of slaves to some bogus sense of Progress that is driving us all mad."
—Hunter S. Thompson, from "The Battle of Aspen: Freak Power in the Rockies"

I love Hunter S. Thompson's nonfiction, and I had never read this collection, so bing-bang-boom, I've now read it. It turns out I had read many of the articles before (I suggest reading Thompson's The Great Shark Hunt instead of this book), but I also have to admit that I enjoyed the interstitial correspondence between Thompson and Rolling Stone editor Yawn Wenner.

The Executioner's Song, by Norman Mailer

"On the other hand, he sure didn't like it in Reform School. His dream when he came out, he wrote, was to be a mobster and push people around."
—Norman Mailer, from The Executioner's Song

I bought this book cheap at a used-books store because I'd enjoyed Mailer's The Naked and the Dead (besides what might be the worst ending in the history of the written word), so I bought this book because the cover said the manuscript had won the Pulitzer Prize, and because the back description made it sound like Truman Capote's In Cold Blood, which book I fuckin' loved, as well as the fact that I was intrigued by what exactly "the executioner's song" signified. Review: Although Mailer did a fine job of presenting the story of executed murderer Gary Gilmore's life, times, and crimes, this book fell short of the quality of In Cold Blood. And by the way, in another bewilderingly disappointing ending, it turns out the lyrics quoted in the book that might represent "the executioner's song" are from a screenplay Mailer wrote. A thousand pages to read some lyrics from one of his fuckin' screenplays.

The Crying of Lot 49, by Thomas Pynchon

"Things did not delay in turning curious. If one object behind her discovery of what she was to label the Tristero System or often only The Tristero (as if it might be something's secret title) were to bring to an end her encapsulation in her tower, then that night's infidelity with Metzger would logically be the starting point for it; logically."
—Thomas Pynchon, from The Crying of Lot 49

This book is brilliantly written and all, and clearly Thomas Pynchon is a genius of sorts, but it seems to me like he should have used some of that blistering intelligence to get me to actually care about what was happening in this book. There were some laughs and some utterly beautiful and unique pulses of thought and language, but My God did I not give a fuck about anything that was happening.

(*Several people have voiced concern, so I wanted to clarify here at the end that when I refer to women as "broads" it is short for "a broad spectrum of qualities I admire.")

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Life Is Music

Our bosomy Earth paints art in my heart . . .
Shocks a public flair into my pubic hair . . .
Infects me with a very pleasing disease.

Until this bosom and I should part,
when I no longer have a Here,
I shall see cathedrals when I see trees

And streams and plants and soil.
(The Earth is worth her weight in gold,
And we have already inherited it.)

I first burst forth when her surface ceased to boil,
And both of us are older than the word old:
I from the chain of life, she chained to an oval orbit.

We are both wizards in our prisons.
She, locked in the heavens, dances,
And locked within her grasp I learn her dancing magic.

On every level, visions and visions and visions:
Micro and macro in swinging-string trances.
I can't stop saying it: Life is music!

Thursday, March 20, 2014

A Parody Of Annoying Poetry

Twisting up the tallest spires at San Motmorgne,
in Andreabouregeaux, 
on the murky Ellehoubbhe River,
I smoked a dry cigarette
and let my thoughts linger on the crisp evening sky
and the crowded markets at Myschke-et-Sousonvearl,
where the stone-walled halls brim with fine laughing ladies,
who joke, as they always do, about the ambiguous statues in
St. Marie-Chrestentonvilles,
in the southern plains of Lhopsodrosia—
the echoing of the ladies' droll laughter is to me 
like the harmonious singing of the samurai tenor-barbers
at Heiji-chen-komuru.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

(Fake) BuzzFeed List Of 6 (Fake) 'Onion' Headlines!

1. "BuzzFeed Writer Dreams Of One Day Authoring The Next Great American List"

2. "Like All 43 Previous Presidents, Barack Obama Has Now Successfully Masturbated In Every Single Room In The White House"

3. "Real-Life Plane Gets Lost Where 'Lost' Plane Got Lost"

4. "Russia Gonna Do Russia"

5. "Editorial: All 758 Of These Tattoos Are Special To Me"

6. "Despairing BuzzFeed Freelancer Writes SEO-Friendly Suicide List"

Monday, February 24, 2014

Selfishness Shouldn't Be A 4-Letter Word

Believe it or not, you're selfish. (Or as the kids today might tweet, "bro ur selfish af.")

So am I.

I mention our selfishnesses because I believe the word "selfish" is being unfairly represented in modern American usage, and I'd like a moment of your time to see if I can get you to agree with me on a redefinition that might give us all a more accurate phraseology for discussions of The Human Condition.

First, I need you to understand that selfishness is important. That is not my opinion, but rather a fact, for if you were not in some way selfish, you would do absolutely anything anyone ever asked of you (or nothing at all whatsoever). (And by the way, if you're female and you do absolutely anything anyone ever asks of you, hit me up right now, because that means you're a no-cost whore, and I want to try some crazy shit.)

Even Catholic nuns are selfish in that they themselves wish to give their lives to the church's service, which means there's some sort of self in there that is church-inclined and would not automatically submit to an invitation into my sexual crucible. Mother Teresa, for instance, was selfish in that she felt that being around the dying made her feel closer to God.

Do you think she would have kept doing it if it made her feel bored and spiritually disconnected, just because some missionary had told her to? And even if so, should we be championing and sanctifying the bored and spiritually disconnected? The miserable? That's the right direction?

Like it or not, her actions were based on a form of selfishness.

The key to me seems to be somehow finding a selfishness where you are capable of invigorating self-navigation but where you don't veer wildly into becoming a greedy pirate asshole bastard.

Much-loved/much-hated philosopho-author Ayn Rand's writings introduced a concept to me that I've been turning over ever since: Rational vs. Irrational Selfishness.

I believe the difference between the two concepts accounts for why some people are wonderful and some people are loathsome. 

An easy way of explaining the difference is like so: You are playing basketball, and there are five seconds left on the game clock. Your team is losing by one point, and the ball is passed to you, but you are being covered by two players on defense, which means one of your teammates has a wide-open shot. The irrationally selfish person forces a bad shot in the hopes of claiming both the victory and a great proportion of the credit for the victory, and is willing to risk a low-percentage shot and his own team losing in that pursuit, whereas the rationally selfish player zings a pass over to the open teammate, for the much more likely, and much easier, but less personally glorifying, victory.

Please understand, however, that there is a story about basketball legend Larry Bird, where he took such a shot himself, with permission from his teammates, based on this paraphrased assertion and assurance: "There's nobody else in this gym who practiced taking 200 of these shots every day this summer."

I believe that, too, stands for rational, rather than irrational, selfishness.

In a team sport, the rational goal is the team's victory, whereas the irrational goal is personal glory. Larry Bird made the shot and received both—team victory and personal glory—but only because he was rationally selfish enough to practice harder than everyone else in the league.

Or maybe you could look at it this way: The aforementioned Ayn Rand—who wrote a book called The Virtue of Selfishness, to show you just how much she believed in this stuff—said in an interview once that she would rather herself die than her beloved husband, because she loved her husband more than herself. In that way, it is a selfish choice, even though it ends in literal selflessness.

Anyway, that's pretty much the gist of it. When I say someone is a good dude, it's because he takes care of his own shit and has an empathy for the existential plight of his other human teammates, whereas when I say someone is a fuckin' dick, it's because he's irrationally selfish enough to disregard accountability and empathy in a hollow, lifelong search for fleeting narcissistic reassurance. And a similar split, with different terms, can be found with women.

The problem is that life is both an individual and a team sport. You pilot a unique self, but you are also a member of the family of humanity. You are the most important person in the world to yourself, but everyone else is in the same position.

Life is a walk on a tightrope—it's very easy to fall on either side, into slavish selflessness or reprehensible selfishness. (As St. Augustine said, "Complete abstinence is easier than perfect moderation.") Thus, the challenge is in finding a balance that can bring you (and me) closer to the rationally selfish goal of a better life for the self and a better world for all.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Book Review: Kafka on the Shore

Kafka on the Shore

Dear Reader,

I received your breathless request, so here are my extended thoughts on author Haruki Murakami's 2002 novel Kafka on the Shore

Right up front I feel it's important that I specifically mention that I've only read this book once, which I bring up because I have a friend who once said something wise: "I try to never review a book until I've read it twice." And to that end I cite the fact that at one point in Vladimir Nabokov's lectures on literature the brilliant author and prose snob talks about the kinds of deep minds that haven't read a great number of books, but have instead read a few books a great number of times. And so like my friend and one of my heroes, I agree that more readings of this book would create a more comprehensive review here, so I wanted to make it clear that this review is based on a single hermeneutic lap around the track, for in my life right now I'm more interested in the next text than the last, and unfortunately my current towering book-reading queue is much too Babel-ish to do any backtracking now, especially for an unpaid review on my blog

You see, I've literally never written a book review before, and yet despite my having gone through 32 years of life with an intact reviewer's hymen, I seem to have found myself having finally been successfully seduced and penetrated, by this novel. 

I believe that this has happened—that I have finally caved into a critic's position—for several reasons, the main one being that I honestly very rarely have more to say about a book than, "Hmm."

Or, "I am jealously furious about how good that was."

Or, "Well, there you go—that was fun."

Which limited responses are weird to me because I really do love reading and thinking.

(Maybe I've never reviewed a book because I simply have a dull mind is a thought I'd rather not dwell on.)

This time, and for several reasons that I will get into, I have found myself filling with something to actually say about a book—I have been impregnated with critical thought! But you know what? Let's stop worrying about the reasons as much as just getting to it.

So let me start by saying that I zipped right through this book—and in my opinion any story that I can eagerly zip through at least deserves a bronze star. I've read "easy" books that were impossible for me to read because the author's writing didn't find any logical credibility or aesthetic flow in my mind, but here, and standing as the opposite of what I just described, Mr. Murakami's novel Kafka on the Shore easily pulled off both.

In my page-ripping zip I found the prose in the book—the aesthetic and cognitive literary brainflow—to be as smooth and forceful as the male/female Oshima's graceful navigation of the dreamy highways in author Murakami's/protagonist Kafka Tamura's Japan. The words glided on by, and while I don't know Japanese, I assume that this was a very well done translation, indeed, because in my mind the writing was able to create the wonderful reading-sensation of what it must be like for a bird to be held in flight without the effort of flapping—rising and coasting on the big breezes alone.

Good prose.

But all right, enough about that, because I've come across plenty of pretty prose that was nothing more than a hot red thong on a big-testicled old donkey, so clearly prose ain't enough to silver- or gold-satisfy this unabashed bibliophile: WHAT OF THE ACTUAL STORY?

Aptly named, the novel's story is thoroughly Kafkaesque—wherein a mysteriously disabled old man can speak intelligently with cats; a boy (taking on the pseudonym Kafka Tamura) follows some bizarre and at times incestuous impulses that he can't exactly define; seemingly immortal spirits communicate with the living by taking on the forms of pop-culture icons, etc.—and was therefore right up my otherwise-easily-bored alley.

I've written enough stories in my life to know that Mystery and True Crime are dependable genres for creating briskly enjoyable reads, because a narrated mystery is a delicious carrot dangled in front of the reading mind: What's the answer? I must follow this story and find the solution. There must be justice and closure!

I'm convinced that The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo was such a profitable success because at its heart it was a sexual, murderous, Nazi-related mystery that promised to be solved and resolved by the book's end (as it turned out, only to some extent—I didn't bother reading the others). In my opinion the prose in TGWTDT, or at least the English translation I read, was some pretty stupid shit that I found disappointing given the book's vast $$$$$$$$$. (But perhaps, to get cynical as a hell for a moment, perhaps pretty stupid shit is to be the new standard in times filled with pretty stupid shit.)

This book is much better than that. Kafka on the Shore ends up promising the resolution of several curious, deliciously dangled, Kafkaesque mysteries, and as a lover of mysteries and koans I followed the narrative through to its conclusion with such speed it was like I was driving a nice car through a bad neighborhood.

And maybe that last image is particularly fitting, because here come my complaints about this book. I am an avid fan of the now dead, formerly despairing Franz Kafka's writings. I have devoured the lion's share of his mind-bending oeuvre, and while I can see the wonderful similarities between FK's and Murakami's writings in this book, they are also very different. 

Franz Kafka didn't dangle a terrible number of carrots, or you might also say he was absolutely all carrots everywhere. What I mean is that reading Kafka, to me, is like seeing a sculptor painstakingly shape out some sort of abstract form that, the more you look at it, the more you can see that this shape is simply unlike anything else you've ever seen before. You don't know what to call it—other than, of course, Kafkaesque—but you do know that some part of  your mind has been expanded.

For me, most commercially viable stories are a series of shapes—like squares and triangles and circles, etc.—that must be moved around and placed into their proper slots in order for the story to be successfully told—the game won—by book's/movie's/story's end. But with Franz Kafka, I see the author set down a shape for which there simply is no ready-made slot, and instead of fitting into anything, the beautiful fucker just sits there on the game board, with no home, which might normally disappoint a player/reader/viewer/author, but with Kafka, to me, it almost feels like he's gone beyond the game.

Next-leveled that shit.

But not everyone can do that. In fact, very few people can even come close to pulling it off without looking like smelly amateurs—screenwriter Charlie Kaufman and filmmaker David Lynch come to mind as succeeding where many talentless, lazy-minded, irrationally selfish artists have failed.

With Kafka on the Shore, though, I instead ended up getting the impression that Murakami simply played the same game most commercially viable authors play (because, let's remember, Franz Kafka barely got paid shit for his writings during his life, and even today it's not like all the book clubs and publishers and teenage girls are swooning over poor ol' Franz). The difference between this book and the standard bestseller sort is that Murakami used unusual shapes instead of the standard. A somehow Kafka-ish triangle. A spheroid rather than a circle. A resolution that is itself a riddle. 

But they all ended up having a slot on the game board, where they fit enough to call it closure when I finally set the book down.

To me, KOTS ultimately ended up feeling like a mysterious dream that was edited and crafted to be commercially viable. 

And perhaps I shouldn't begrudge what Murkami has done in combining the commercially-viable-but-standard-Mystery game with an introduction of "the bestseller reader" to Franz Kafka and his literature snob–celebrated uniqueness. It's just that the more I've thought about it, the more I feel like there is a connection between this book and the Charlie Kaufman screenplay Adaptation. I believe Kaufman ended up requiring an adaptation for his very weird screenplay, and he pulled it off by having what turns out to be a fairly conventional ending be written by his nonexistent brother Donald, who was always more interested in commercial viability. Charlie/Donald Kaufman had to add that adventurous, car-chase ending or the beautiful weirdness found in that screenplay otherwise wouldn't have survived. And in a way it's the same with Kafka on the Shore: Mr. Murakami crafted some Kafka-shaped shapes and slots, and he created enough of a resolution for people not to dump on the book when it ended, with a healthy remainder of curiosities to consider, but which left me with an odd, partially betrayed feeling, because . . .

Franz Kafka rarely if ever produced any tyings-uppings like there are in this novel—and, when he did, it was usually in a fleeting way, at the end of an interminably long paragraph, where the tying-upping would be something so suddenly profound it felt like I'd been kicked in the chest. Whereas in KOTS, something happens with the old man at the end where nothing might've happened with the old man if it were Kafka (the author, not the character) at the narrative wheel. In fact I feel dirty for even momentarily trying to channel what FK might've done (besides not finishing the manuscript—that's the one thing we know for sure), but what I'm trying to get at is that I didn't feel like I was kicked in the chest when all the game pieces were finally in their appropriate slots. 

So there, for whatever it amounts to, is my disappointment in this book. But let's not forget that my sweet loverboy Franz Kafka died an unheralded, miserable, tubercular fuck, whereas author Haruki Murakami seems to be enjoying quite a successful ($$$$$$$$$) life, so maybe I'm doing a disservice to HM's decision-making. 

And you know what? It's dawning on me that perhaps my disappointments with this book rest more within myself than the text itself, for indeed this book is on the shores of Kafka—the periphery, the fringes—whereas I'm a person who's more interested in Kafka's mainland.

But trust me, it's been my experience that most people prefer the shores of anything, where it's relatively safe because there's plenty to live on. Most people like it real—I just happen to like it real and weird.

Which demographic breakdowns make sense, because who, after all, besides masochists and martyrs, likes to be kicked in the chest?

Anyway, there's no point in dragging this all out, so here's my attempt at a final, condensed review: In my mind books either make the podium or not, and this one made the podium. I place a silver star upon this novel, and I thank the author for the pleasure of the read and the good work he has done towards keeping things unusual in a time when most books are so insipidly similar that I skulk past them sadly, occasionally shuddering, with a snobbish pinch to my nose, casting accusatory glances, as if to say, "YOU are why so many people don't like reading anymore!"

But anyway, your letter to me said that you have been casting about for an untraditional-yet-smooth read to ease you back into possibly giving a shit about reading again, and so bingo-bango: I hand you this novel.

Be well,


Daniel Donatelli is the author of four books, including The Great Anti-American Novel, and is currently speaking in third-person on his blog.