Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World
By Dennis Abrams
Chapter 29: Swimming. “I was swimming. Orpheus ferried across the Styx to the Land of the Dead. All the varieties of religious experience in the world, yet when it comes to death, it all boils down to the same thing. At least Orpheus didn’t have to balance laundry on his head. The ancient Greeks had style.” Can he forgive grandfather? Are the System and the Laundry run by the same person? The stone wall. The hole. “Did it matter to anybody that my reality would end in another twenty-eight hours and forty-two minutes?” The passage. The siren call of the INKlings. “I think it would be wonderful if I could follow you into that world where you’re going.” Remembering the couple listening to Duran Duran. “My world foreshortened, flattening into a credit card.” Flash cuts of memory, “Idea are warping off in weird direction.” Why hasn’t he pissed? The exit. Whistling Peter and Gordon’s I Go to Pieces. Adjusting to the light. “I seem to remember this happening to me before…the light, the glare, my eyes tearing up.” Back to his place.
Chapter 30: The events in the Woods at the Power Station seem like a dream. Without appetite. Innumerable old men digging a hole. Accordion! A few simple chords. Six old men, the hole waist deep. Lunch with the Colonel. “They dig for the sake of digging. So in that sense, it is a very pure hole…They dig their hole because they want to dig…It has no special meaning, does not transport them anywhere. All of us dig at our own pure holes. We have nothing to achieve by activities, nowhere to get to. Is there not something marvelous a bout this? We hurt no one and no one gets hurt. No victory, no defeat.” “Lay down your mind and peace will come. A peace deeper than anything you have ever known.” Boku’s shadow is dying, “A person has the right to see his own shadow under these circumstances.”
Chapter 31: The subway tracks. Where are their tickets? “It could rain for a whole month like in a J.G. Ballard novel, but let it wait until I was out of the picture.” The chubby girl points out that rain is easy on the eyes. What day is it? The long haired cab driver, “I only pick up rockers.” “In ten, fifteen years, it’s going to be rock taxis all over, eh? World’s going to be baaad.” The clean apartment. Inviting the librarian for dinner. “I won’t be around from tomorrow afternoon. I can’t really explain over the phone, but I’m going far away.” The librarian was the person who had cleaned his apartment. Pink brassiere, pink panties, pink panty hose, pink skirt, and pastel pink blouse. To the laundromat.
Chapter 32: The Gatekeeper splitting firewood. “Four beasts dead in this morning alone. Many more will die by tomorrow.” The shadow’s quarters. Boku’s shadow is not as sick as he seems. His escape plan. Boku’s attachment to the Town. “If you let me die, you’ll be one of the Townsfolk. You’ll be trapped here forever.” Boku doesn’t want to leave the Librarian behind. Why doesn’t his Shadow escape on his own? “You are a lightning rod; your task is to ground. Do you see?” Boku decides to escape with his Shadow. “All is as you say. This is no place for me.”
Chapter 33: The Laundromat. The drier. Lark Extra Longs. Four gateaux. “Everything would be overt soon enough. Immortality. I was bound for the world of immortality. That’s what the Professor said. The End of the World was not death but a transposition. I would be myself. I would be reunited with what I had already lost and was now losing.” “I was myself, waiting on the shore for me to return.” New clothes at Paul Stuart. Bruckner. Oysters. “I couldn’t think of anything better to do. Most human activities are predicated on the assumption that life goes on. if you take that premise away, what is there left?” Retrieving the skull. Renting a Toyota Carina 1800 GT Twin-Cam Turbo. Cassettes from Johnny Mathis to Schoenberg to Bach to Bob Dylan. The rental car lady on Bob Dylan’s voice, “It’s like a kid standing at the window watching the rain.” “We are all getting old. That much was as plain as the falling rain.”
Chapter 34: New snow boots. Taking the accordion. The Library. Talking to the Librarian. “I will leave the Town tomorrow….I doubt you can understand, but I belong to that world, where I will be lead around, even led astray, by my own mind.” “Very likely, I will regret leaving this town for the rest of my life. Yet I cannot stay. My mind cannot forgive my gain at the sacrifice of my shadow and the beasts.” “Losing you is most difficult for me, but the nature of my love for you is what matters.” “I remember Mother told me that if one has mind, nothing is every lost, regardless where one goes. Is that true?” “When our shadows die, the beasts breathe in mind.” Can Boku read the Librarians thoughts from the old dreams? “The mind is not like raindrops. It does not fall from the skies, it does not lose itself among other things. If you believe in me at all, then believe this: I promise you I will find it. Everything depends on this.” “I believe you,” she whispers after a moment. “Please find my mind.”
Chapter 35: Video games while waiting for his date with the Librarian. The hardware store. Buying nailclippers. The Brandenburg Concertos. Discussing various versions of the Brandenburg with the Librarian. The Italian restaurant. Ordering pretty much everything on the menu. “I would know…Maybe so…Why are all your thoughts so uncertain?” “I never trust people with no appetite. It’s like they’re always holding something back on you, don’t you think?” The Stranger. Turgenev. “The unicorns were all in my head…they really were living in my consciousness. Someone found them for me.” The gift of nailclippers. “I wish I’d worked in a library myself.” A magnificent meal, but frozen pizza and a bottle of Chivas is waiting at the Librarian’s house. He shows her the unicorn skull. Pat Boone? Sex three times. Singing Danny Boy along with Bing Crosby.
Chapter 36: Is the accordion the key? “Beautiful! Are the sounds like wind?” Boku’s mind is “transported great distances.” Remembering the Town. “Each place and person I shall lose forever; each face and feature I shall remember the rest of my life. If this world is wrong, if its inhabitants have no mind, whose fault is that? I feel almost a…love…toward the Town. I cannot stay in this place, yet I do not want to lose it. Boku remembers Danny Boy. The skulls. “There is your mind. Your mind has not been lost or scattered to the winds. It’s here, and no one can take it away. To read it out, I must bring all these together.” “My search has been a long one. It has taken me to every corner of this walled Town, but at last I have found the mind we have lost.”
Chapter 37: Waking up. The glowing unicorn skull. The skull glows in response to Watashi. The scattered clothes on the floor no longer feel like his. “I was born by the sea…everything washed up by the sea was purified.” As dawn approached, the skull no longer glowed. More food. He leaves her the skull.
Chapter 38: The glowing of the skulls fade. Collapse. “I feel no hunger. I need sleep.” He leaves the Librarian the accordion. Helping his Shadow escape. Going to the Southern Pool to escape the Town. Footprints in the snow. The Southern Pool is the only exit. Boku is remembering things about his former world.
Chapter 39: The park. Perfect Duke Ellington weather. Hibiya Park. “When I first read [Brothers Karamazov] I didn’t know what Alyosha meant. How was it possible for a life of misery to be happy overall? But then I understood, that misery could be limited to the future.” The Librarian leaves. Popcorn. “I didn’t care which world was coming next….Even if no one noticed, I couldn’t leave willingly. Loss was not a skill, not a measure of life.” Calling his apartment – the chubby girl in pink answers. The Professor has gone to Finland, she’s going to keep Watashi’s apartment. “I shot the big guy’s ear off.” She offers to deep freeze Watashi. “Listen…Even if we lose you forever, I’ll always remember you, until the day I die. You won’t be lost from my mind. Don’t forget that.” “I wanted to think that I gave the Professor and his chubby granddaughter and my librarian friend a little happiness. Could I have given happiness to anyone else?” Remembering the girl at the car rental. “Sleep had come. Now I could reclaim all I’d lost. What’s lost never perishes. I closed my eyes and gave myself over to sleep. Bob Dylan was singing A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall, over and over.”
Chapter 40: Snow. A landscape befitting the name the End of the World. “I have been thinking it over…I’m not going…I know full well what staying here means…I can’t bring myself to leave…I have discovered the reason the Town exists.” “…because I already know. You yourself created this Town. You made everything here. The Wall, the River, the Woods, the Library, the Gate, everything. Even this Pool. I’ve known all along.” “I will not forget you.” “I turn away from the Pool and begin the walk back. On the far side of the Western Hill is the Town. I know she waits for me in the Library with the accordion…All that is left to me is the sound of the snow underfoot.”
“Well, it’s like this. Deep in your consciousness there’s this core that is imperceptible to yourself In my case, the core is a town. A town with a river flowing through it and a high brick wall surrounding it. None of the people in the town can leave. Only unicorns can go in and out. The unicorns absorb the egos of the townpeople like blotter people and carry them outside the wall. So the people in the town have no ego, no self. I lives in the town – or so the story goes.”
From Jay Rubin:
“Hard-boiled Wonderland and the End of the World is Murakami’s most elaborate exploration of the relationship of the brain to the world it perceives. He had an opportunity to expand on this question when interviewed about the spontaneity of his style. The interviewer didn’t quite buy his assertion that he had ‘nothing to write about,’ as he claimed with reference to Hear the Wind Sing. ‘If you have nothing to write about,’ asked the interviewer, ‘how do you account for your ability to write such long novels?’
‘I think it’s precisely because I have nothing that I want to write about that I can write long novels. The less there is I want to say, the simpler the structure gets. If you know beforehand “I want to say this or that,” then structure naturally begins to become oppressive and to interrupt the spontaneous flow of the story…Theme is strictly a secondary matter…Basically, I believe in the inner power of the human being.
Q: Hmmm, that sort of reminds me of Keith Jarrett’s performances of improvisational music.
A: Except that I have no concept of a god being involved.
Q: Right, his idea is religious. He says he is being guided by God as he plays.
A: I’m a little more…what?…pragmatic?…physical? That’s why the brain keeps coming up in my works. I feel that somewhere I’m tying together the brain and that inner power. So as in A Wild Cheep Chase, you get this blood cyst in the boss’s brain. I don’t believe in the existence of God, of course, but I think I do believe in something like that kind of power in the human system.’
About a month before he finished writing the last part of Hard-boiled Wonderland and the End of the World, Murakami justifiably felt a strong sense of accomplishment as a novelist. ‘I have to write novels,’ he told the writer Kenji Nakagami. ‘For me, a story is more or less a springboard for a novel.’ When Nakagami pointed out that Murakami’s reputation at this point rested primarily on his short stories, Murakami insisted: ‘The way I feel about it, a short story can be either a preparation for a novel or a kind of gleaning – a way to write something that didn’t quite fit into a longer work.’
He then told Nakagami he was planning to spend 1985 translating and writing stories, then go abroad for a while the year after. He had enjoyed meeting American writers but wasn’t especially attracted to the US as a place to live. He thought he would try Greece or Turkey, which he had enjoyed visiting. It would be another four months before he completed his novel and the rewrites, but otherwise things would go pretty much according to plan.
When Nakagami asked him the title of the new novel, Murakami just chuckled: ‘I’m too embarrassed to say.’ He revealed why to his Berkeley audience:
‘Next I wrote a novel with a very long title: Hard-boiled Wonderland and the End of the World. My Japanese editor asked me to shorten this title to The End of the World. My American editor asked me to shorten it to Hard-boiled Wonderland. Alfred Birnbaum, who translated it, thought the title was simply ridiculous and asked me to find something completely different. But I resisted them all. Hard-boiled Wonderland and the End of the World may be a long, ridiculous title, but it is the only possible one for that book.
The double title reflects the fact that there are two separate stories in the novel, one called ‘Hard-boiled Wonderland’ and the other called ‘The End of the World,’ told in alternating chapters. In the end, these two totally different stories overlap and become one. This is a technique often used in mystery stories or science fiction. Ken Follett, for example, is a writer who often uses this approach. I wanted to write a large-scale novel using this method…
Writing this novel was a sort of game for me, since for a long time I myself had no idea how the two stories would come together. It was a thrilling experience, but one that left me exhausted. I knew it would be a long time before I tried something like that again.’”
My take? This was my second reading of the book, and I found it more fascinating than the first time I read it. As I said at the beginning of our read, I’m generally not a fan of the two narrative structure, but in this case, I think it works, as the two worlds ever so gradually (paperclips!) begin to converge. And I wonder what world is lurking in my core consciousness.
So…do you think he pulled it off? Did the two stories come together in a satisfying way for you? What did you think of the book in general? Share your thoughts and questions with the group!
My next post: Tuesday, June 9, my introduction to our next book, the truly wonderful The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle.