Glowering But Committed

(warning: 1Q84 spoilers up to chapter five)

I think the most pressing problem is a recurring one. I cannot stand the Aomame chapters, for more reasons than can be chalked up (entirely) to Murakami himself. True, the gratuitous same-sex flashback so soon, and as a “random” titillating memory, came off as a repugnant attempt to draw in those who wanted Norwegian Wood without the depression. That was infuriating. Those people do not deserve to be catered to—and don’t prattle about economic realities because we all know Murakami isn’t exactly hurting.

It’s more than that, though. It’s Aomame’s endless awareness of her body and its effect on people, it’s her vanity and her cruelty and the occasional frustration that is supposed to temper her into an acceptable (or at least interesting) character for us. But come the hell on. A sexy female assassin? How innovative.

Stop.

I was getting to the part where I blamed personal foibles for my dissatisfaction with the novel, rather than poor overdone fetishistic choices on the part of the author. So.

As with actual women, I have little patience for the vicissitudes of female characters’ pernicious moods. Aomame is a total bitch to that guy in the bar, and for no reason other than that he failed to rise to the role she wanted to jam him into in her sadistic little mating game. Or rather, that he paused to question the (questionable!) circumstances of her offer, rather than accepting blindly and with puppy-grateful eyes her snottily-proffered goods. It’s not that I find the core of her actions in the bar morally problematic, but that she goes about them in the meanest, most cocksure way she can. And that’s a problem for me. One that cannot be assuaged by the occasional pseudo-metaphysical musing Murkami plonks into Aomame’s mind, as if covering up a particularly embarrassing stain on a rug.

Tengo and even Komatsu, I cut slack. Why? It isn’t as though it’s a conscious move on my part—there isn’t, as of yet, baggage that requires the cutting of slack. But I get the feeling that Murakami, as always with his swollen international audiences in mind (and influenced, as he is, by considerably more exposure to and discourse with external cultures than many of his compatriots could claim), is trying to turn Tengo’s nature and the sum of his life thus far into a problem that, to many contemporary readers in Japan, it probably isn’t.

I gather that we are supposed to view his once-a-week sexual liaisons with the bored housewife as a tremendous underachievement (he’s a MAN, he should be tapping that TWENTY-FOUR SEVEN, like MEN do! and also beating up her husband for good measure), likewise his present employment situation (nevermind that he both likes it AND it pays the bills). Interestingly, the only aspect of his professional life that anchors him in the highly successful Japan of the mid-eighties is the fact that he lives alone—everything else speaks more to the mindset of today’s twenty- and thirty-somethings, with their lowered expectations and value systems that shy away from the linear march to corporate success that so characterized their parents. In other words, Tengo is written as a post-bubble character who happens to live in the bubble of 1980s Japan, pre-burst.

All of that is tangential to how I am thinking we are meant to read the males in this book so far, and my failure (so far) to read them thusly. I’d be bringing too much of my former studies (for which, predictably, I harbor no small degree of distaste) to bear if I were to provide quotes and case studies to elaborate, but suffice it to say that both Komatsu and Tengo fall well within the realm of expected, acceptable figures of manhood sketched out in the literature and politics of their country’s near and distant past. Not to mention its present. To expect us to judge them on heteronormative, western standards of manliness may be lucrative (given the vast international audience he maintains), but it’s a bit demeaning. To us, and to himself, and possibly to the characters in question. How he imposes a transformation on them remains to be seen. But I care enough about Tengo and his efforts as a writer to stomach gratuitous Aomame and her gratuitously dangerous allure.

For now.

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