Tuesday, April 25, 2023

Reading Round-Up

 Here are three short novels I have read since finishing with Tokarczuk.  What more can I say?

Kurt Vonnegut, Cat's Cradle (1963)

I've often thought I should read more Vonnegut, but I don't know--I somehow always feel like if I haven't by now, it's kind of too late for me to really appreciate him--his ideal audience is younger than I am, at this point.  I feel the same way about David Foster Wallace and Joseph Heller.  Well, regardless, I did read this here book.  This is the one where the world ends in ice--well, from the perspective of the narrator it does, at any rate; it's not really clear if his judgment on this made-up science can be trusted.  Not clear to me, at any rate; I don't think it's something we're really supposed to think about.

I mean, it was fine.  I liked it better than Breakfast of Champions; not as much as Slaughterhouse-Five.  It certainly wasn't unpleasant to read.  And yet, it does have something of the feel of a shaggy-dog story, where you get to the end and wonder, is that it?  Did I get anything out of this?  Well, having read these three novels, I feel like I can in good conscience ignore the rest of Vonnegut's output.

Ryu Murakami, In the Miso Soup (1997)

How many people--Westerners, at any rate--do you think have read Murakami either because they confused him with Haruki, or because they had some vague sense that this seemed like it was probably basically the same sort of thing?  Probably a lot, I bet.  The two of them ARE almost exact contemporaries, but aside from a general patina of weirdness, they're nothing alike, at least based on this.

It's about a guy named Kenji who makes a decent, if sleazy, living serving as a guide for foreign sex tourists in Tokyo.  His latest client is an odd guy named Frank who, he starts to think, may actually be a gruesome murderer.  There's one scene of very unpleasant violence (which comes on quite abruptly; be prepared), and then things end ambiguously.

Well, I thought this was all right, actually.  I was sort of interested in the milieu because I've been playing Sega's Yakuza games lately, and they always feature some element of the kind of...thing you see here.  I mean, sex clubs that we're frequently told aren't actually sex clubs but clearly...are?  Japanese culture is confusing to me.  But it was interesting to see these issues addressed from a different perspective, though it's difficult to tell what if any argument Murakami is trying to make.  Regardless, I might try one of his other novels, but if it relies on shock the way this does to some extent, that might be enough.  I can neither confirm nor deny at this point, but he might be a one-trick pony.  As, indeed, that other Murakami is.

Heinrich von Kleist, Michael Kohlhaas (1810)

Here's something different!  This is a very strange story where the title character, a horse trader, gets angry because he's compelled to leave his horses at a local castle, and when he comes back for them, they've been maltreated and they're all emaciated.  So, to get revenge he wreaks bloody violence all over the place, until he gets a message from Martin Luther (yes!) urging him to knock it off.  This shames him into stopping, and the rest of the book is concerned with the question of whether he'll be recompensed for his horses or put to death or both or what.

If this sounds a bit odd, you're not wrong--it is VERY odd.  From my perspective, anyway.  I have to imagine the contemporaneous audience would have read it differently--in the same was we're being anachronistic when we call Tristram Shandy "postmodern."  Very interesting, though.  Also, Kleist died in a murder-suicide pact with his terminally-ill lover, which is the most German-Romantic way to go possible, so good work on that, I guess.


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