112015Oct

MURAKAMI RETURNS WITH TWO BLASTS FROM THE PAST

MURAKAMI RETURNS WITH TWO BLASTS FROM THE PAST
WIND/PINBALL by HARUKI MURAKAMI
by Chris Fox

Wind/Pinball, the latest book from Haruki Murakami, combines his first two novels into a single volume. These short works—Hear the Wind Sing and Pinball, 1973—were published in Japan in 1979 and 1980, respectively, and were unavailable in English up until now (although fans of Murakami’s A Wild Sheep Chase have known for some time that it was the final installment of the “Rat Trilogy”, which these two books initiate.) Both novels are elegiac in tone, especially Pinball, and follow the converging/diverging fortunes of the two principal characters—the unnamed narrator and his existential sounding-board, the nick-named “Rat”—as they attempt to make sense of their current lives and romantic entanglements in light of the recent past, particularly the student uprisings of the late 60s.

Wind is the more abstract of the two works, and its loose, informal prose as well as Vonnegut-style ventriloquism (through references to—and quotes from—fictional American sci-fi author Derek Hartfield) mark it for what it is: a precocious first work from a talented, self-taught writer still wearing his influences on his sleeve. Pinball is considerably more focused and recognizably Murakami-esque, featuring a quest to find a very specific model of pinball machine, shadowy organizations, interesting female companions, a sophisticated and novel use of figural language, Pynchon-like paranoia, an improvised ceremony for a dead telephone switch-panel officiated with a short sermon drawn from Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason, and a greater—though still bleak—emotional tone. The narrator, still unnamed, spends most of the novel with identical twin girls while growing more obsessed with the history of Pinball machines, particularly one called “Spaceship” which he and the Rat used to play in their friend J’s Bar. It is hinted that this odd obsession is a coping mechanism for the narrator, who has been struggling throughout both Wind and Pinball to understand the suicide of a college girlfriend who hanged herself for mysterious reasons. In his obliquely related memories, her death and the death of the student movement are intertwined, and their passing has left his life devoid of any real meaning or direction. An enigmatic yet strangely beautiful moment of transcendence occurs at the end of the novel in a monstrous warehouse full of vintage pinball machines when the narrator, finally face-to-face with the game he’s been seeking, seemingly has a moment of communion with this deceased lover from the past.

The novels contain the beginnings of many of Murakami’s famous tropes and recurring symbols (elephants, elephant trainers and spaghetti, for example, all make appearances here), and their placement feels organic and inspired. Both novels are short, emphasizing the dreamlike and ephemeral elements of the overall narrative. Although it often lacks the complexity and narrative/stylistic flourishes that have dazzled (and perplexed) readers in his later work, Wind/Pinball emerges as essential reading for any Murakami fan.

Chris Fox is a Circulation Assistant at May Memorial Library. Contact him at: cfox@alamancelibraries.org