I love this book. Get it. Read it. Now.
“After Birth” by Elisa Albert tells the story of three months in one woman’s life around a year after giving birth who befriends a former “almost” rock star/poet who is about to give birth. The narrator says of the poet: “I’m a little obsessed with her, by which I mean a lot, which I guess is what obsessed means.”
In that sentence, Albert achieves the creation of a distinctive character in her narrator: a sharp sense of humor, somewhat confessional, somewhat striving for clarity, while also somewhat muddled. Ari, the narrator, may not always be a sympathetic character (one of the first things she does is call the upstate city she lives – a fictional town called Utrecht, but an easily readable blend of Albany, Troy, Schenectady — a “shitbox”), but her language is so seductive that it can charm the reader, even in her most negative moments.
After all, Ari seems to be suffering from a kind of post-partum depression, a severe disorientation in which she feels betrayed by a world that didn’t prepare her for life after having a child, she’s lost interest in completing her doctorate in women’s studies, she feels isolated in the aforementioned “shitbox” town, and all of it has been exacerbated by having undergone a c-section operation.
If that weren’t enough, there is also that special kind of existential dread a parent faces by bringing a new life into the world: “I’m not going to pretend my kid is special, like other kids who starve and freeze and get raped and beaten and have to work in factories and get cancer from the fumes, too bad, so sad, but my kid is going to be warm and organic and toxin-free and safe and have everything he wants when he wants it and go to a good college and all is right with the world! Fuck that myopic bullshit. He’s going to suffer. He’s going to get mauled by some force I can’t pretend I can predict. We all live in the same fucked-up world.”
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One of the dominant characteristics of Yasushi Inoue’s rhetorical style in “Life of a Counterfeiter and Other Stories” (Pushkin Press; 144 pages; $18) in is his use of “hedging” phrases, such as “for some reason,” “I’ll never know” and “I may simply be reading too much into things.”
These phrases could be interpreted as creating a narrator who is so fraught with uncertainty that he can only suggest things with modesty rather than declare them with authority.
These stories — written after World War 2 in the early 1950s, but often looking back through the haze of memory at events that took place long before and during the war — can then be seen as a reaction against the kind of narrative certainty about Japan’s prominence in the world that led the nation into its disastrous overreach in China, Korea, and South East Asia. In that sense, his narrative hedging can be seen as an attempt to be precise about the meaning of things that can’t be known.
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1Q84 by Haruki Murakami
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
The Little People are Watching You
“If something really existed, you had to accept it as a reality, whether or not it made sense or was logical. That was his basic way of thinking. Principles and logic didn’t give birth to reality. Reality came first, and the principles and logic followed.”
Murakami’s imaginative worlds — with preternaturally gifted girls, bewildered young men, misshapen men, magical creatures, violence, and passageways between various forms of reality — all set in a recognizable every-day mundaneness of contemporary Japan are the main element that attracts me to his work.
“1Q84” doesn’t disappoint. And the quote above does a great job of summing up the novelist’s approach to this novel and to writing in general — you have to go with wherever “reality” takes you. In “1Q84” that reality is a strange Japan in 1984, in which some characters can see two moons, and in which strange beings, called Little People, have such extraordinary powers that they help to power a religious cult, which rests at the heart of this really long novel.
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