Joy Luck Book Club: After Dark

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A few weeks ago, Dan and Lucy mooned over Dave Eggers and fell in love again. Now, JJs withdrawal has finally caught up with them. As the spicy chicken grease and artificial smoothie flavoring oozes out of their pores, they seek solace in Denny’s and Haruki Murakami’s After Dark.

Lucy: When I first picked up After Dark, its lightness struck me as unusual. Typically, Murakami’s books are better described as tomes, clocking in at an average of 400 pages. Despite its brevity, After Dark remains true to Murakami’s often-lauded surrealist style and themes: lonely characters with unresolved issues, strange coincidences, and seedy characters. During the scenes with Eri sleeping, Murakami delves further into the fantastic than he has in previous novels. His descriptions of the reader’s eyes panning over Eri’s room gave readers a world that went beyond his usual bizarre settings.

As much as I enjoyed After Dark, I could never be fully absorbed into this one of Murakami’s worlds. To me, it felt like Murakami-abridged. It seemed like After Dark was just an experimentation with style, so he never fully developed the plot. Dan, what’s your call?

Dan: Not all of Murakami’s books are epic-length, Lucy – perhaps my favorite Murakami is the slight, elegant Norwegian Wood. That novel tossed aside most of the surrealist techniques that After Dark indulges.

This isn’t to say that After Dark fails in its attempt to portray the Tokyo nightscape. My favorite scenes, at least in terms of writing style, were the ones in which Murakami portrays the sleeping Eri from the point of view of a video camera, describing shot angles with the same spare but astute eye that informs the human interaction in his novels. This is Murakami at his best.

He’s sort of like a pointillist painter – working with fine, very defined moments. Sometimes, like watching Eri sleep, these moments are striking; sometimes they are less so, or even tedious (the meditation on levels of reality Eri’s isolation prompts seems a question for a different, and bigger, book). They don’t all add up to a clear painting, but they are always compelling. At the very least, this novel made me want to hit up a Denny’s.

What were your favorite moments, Lucy?

Lucy: Coincidentally, I actually hit up my first ever Denny’s last weekend. The mozzarella sticks are great! There’s something magical and comforting to eating greasy food late in the night (gosh I really miss JJs and that spicy chicken).
It’s no surprise Murakami chose Denny’s as his setting, diners are the perfect place for loners, everyone’s too ashamed to look up from their Philly cheese steak to judge. But I digress.

Despite fear of sounding too sentimental, I have to admit that my favorite moment of After Dark is when the musician explains to Mari that despite her lack of obvious beauty, he is still intrigued, yet Mari is still confused and, at times, almost repulsed by his attraction.

In Murakami’s hands, this scene is not the beginning of a love story (it would be too cliché to qualify as a Murakami love story), instead Mari’s insecurity offers a glimpse into her loneliness. As much as Mari faults Eri for her own loneliness, she fails to recognize that she is isolating herself. So often have people blamed loneliness on being ostracized, but Murakami shows us that loneliness is more commonly a self-inflicted condition.

However, as much as I did enjoy the book, I really didn’t like the ending. Two sisters spooning each other in bed, heartbeats synchronized, each hopeful for a better tomorrow. Is this Murakami or Laura Ingalls Wilder? I have such admiration (borderline adoration) for Murakami that I expected more, but maybe I’m just greedy.

Dan: I actually liked the ending, though I’ll agree that it was hardly up to Murakami’s standard of excellence (Kafka on the Shore has the best final few pages I’ve ever read). The ending made the book whole, bringing back together the sisters of wakefulness and sleep as the world wakes up.

I wish that the love story scene you mentioned had been drawn out more. While we seem to agree that Murakami’s great strength (or one of them) is his ability to create striking scenes, they sometimes seem a bit too devoid of context. The declaration of Mari’s beauty would seem more rooted in reality if we were able to get to know her better, rather than whisked off to the next perfectly muted, self-contained scene. Despite this somewhat programmatic nature, I still think Murakami (or his translator) is an elegant writer, and I look forward to a novel a bit more substantive – and to rereading this one, and savoring the nightlife and the finely tuned moments of Mari’s life.

And Lucy? We all miss JJ’s. I’ve been craving ginger ale and Pepperidge Farm every night at three AM since school got out. Be strong.

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  1. Hmmm

    Not very original are you?

  2. Mars

    George Bush probably has a diagnosable mental disorder, and I pity him. It must be terrible to be so stupid.

  3. eface  

    norwegian wood is undeniably fantastic Murakami, but the most indelible work of his might be Underground (edited oral accounts of and essays on the tokyo sarin gas attack). beyond being merely unsettling, it's also one of the most succinct yet probing analyses of a national psyche i've ever encountered. also, almost totally agree with the comments on after dark. i actually found myself inadvertantly reading it in a tokyo denny's, which only made the eri segments feel that much more forced in a way that murakami's other flights of fancy never have.

    • Norwegian Wood  

      is fantastic. I'm in the middle of reading Kafka on the Shore, and I don't like it nearly as much. I appreciate the suggestion for Underground. Maybe it will recapture the beautiful writing and psychological depth of Norwegian Wood.

  4. you know

    what they say: Once you go black, you..better break out the AZT.

  5. i've

    read almost every single other work by Murakami and I've loved them all in their individual ways. Norweigan Wood has stuck with me the most. I anxiously awaited After Dark and after I tore through it, I remember thinking, "this is it?" Not up to par.

  6. Fuck books

    Can we get some movie reviews?

  7. eface

    um... anyone remotely interested in one of the most interesting writers of the late 20th century (and, obviously, beyond).

  8. up yours

    this novel is about the brevity of our lives and how we lead isolated lives when that is not in fact what we want.

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