Books read when I should have been sleeping.

Last night I couldn’t sleep so I read books and listened to the amazing thunderstorms that hit around 3 am. The last few days had been sunny and inappropriately warm, but today is cold, damp, and steel gray through and through. Just as everything is at least twice as difficult with this stupid cast on my arm, my mood swings and insomnia seem to be exaggerated as well. Last night I was awake awake awake. Today the weather has got me down down down. I can’t concentrate on anything and I’m bored bored bored.

But since I have been doing some extracurricular reading in my extra waking hours, here are some book reviews.

Haruki Murakami, A Wild Sheep Chase

Murakami, like other Japanese fiction writers, dwells on the minutiae of mundane human life until it begins to give up its metaphysical secrets—revelations about our tenuous grasp on our own existence that rise out of boredom and daily repetition, and a blurring of life and death that settles into normality like vague, perpetual drunkenness. Not as complex as come of his later narratives, but uses the skeleton of a detective story to send its protagonist out on a search for something only vaguely defined—which turns out to be the limit of what a person can understand without really trying.

Haruki Murakami, After Dark

Of all the Murakami novels I’ve read, this one is the most deliberately cinematic. The narrator reminds us periodically that we are a mere “point-of-view” moving through different scenes, observing objects from specific angles, and each character study in this slim account of several individuals’ movements through one night between the hours of 11:56 pm and 6:52 am focuses on the problem of how much you can know a person by observing him or her in this cinematic framework. What can possibly be going through the mind of a businessman in the office between the hours of 2 and 4 am who has just severely beat a young prostitute in a “love motel” a few blocks away? What does a self-absorbed, pill-addicted young model think about when isolated from the rest of the world? The novel makes no attempt to answer such questions, but makes surreal spectacles of these subjects’ inscrutability; the result is a study of human character absent of the explanatory narratives of psychology, which makes the idea of human depth strange, mysterious, and appropriately dark. So why entitle it “After Dark”? As the spare, tense prose moves toward the first hints of sunrise, it gradually reveals that each human subject is, like any cinematic object, a play of light and dark—or, rather, of dark and light. After the darkness of subjectivity has been established—the inscrutable, inexplicable, and invisible—the glimmers of light that animate the individual and make him or her perceptible to others come through that much more brilliantly.

Laurie Halse Anderson, Twisted

Laurie Halse Anderson nails the voice of a withdrawn suburban teenager yet again, this time a young man on the cusp of eighteen struggling to acclimate himself to his newly adult body, perspective, and social responsibilities. High school in Anderson’s books is such fresh hell it’s painful to read, but, as with her earlier novel Speak, I couldn’t put this one down.

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