It's all about echoes this break. First I read Jonathan Lethem's very worthy As She Climbed Across the Table
, while neither my favorite work of his overall or even my favorite work of his early sci-fi period, is quite admirable. The basic story is the creation of a baby universe that thereafter won't go away like it's supposed to, called Lack by its creators because of its strange lack of any physical characteristics besides a seemingly random, potentially conscious tendency to prefer some things over others. It doesn't really read like a Philip K. Dick story, because Lethem's a better writer, and because Lethem is more concerned with human emotion than Dick -- but in many ways it feels like one, particularly in the novel's final, schizophrenic pages.
Next in the queue was Haruki Murakami's first collection, The Elephant Vanishes
. I'm going to borrow a little bit from my friend Eric here, a fellow Go fanatic who recently described Italo Calvino as "a 9-dan writer," 9-dan being the highest ranking possible in Go. Murakami is unquestionably a 9-dan writer. I've loved every story of his I've read, including every single story in The Elephant Vanishes.
There's that exhilaration you feel when you first discover your next new favorite author, the next person you want/need to be a completist of. That's me and Murakami right now. It's young literary love.
These stories are all over the map in terms of realism and surrealism, all over the map in terms of narrative voice, all over the map in terms of tone and metaphor and energy. It doesn't matter. They're all good.
Echoes, I said at the top of the post. I may be the only one who feels this way, but I hear the strongest echo of Raymond Carver in so many of these stories, particularly of "Cathedral," that wonderful transition at the end from alienation to communion. I don't know if Murakami's read any Carver, either in English or in Japanese translation -- and I suppose it's possible that it's actually the translator who's read a lot of Carver, if indeed there's really even any Carver in the mix at all.
It doesn't really matter how the echo got there. Of course it's there. That Carver feeling of essential loneliness, but still having faint hope for the possibility of connection, is probably the defining emotional state of our times.
Next up: It's Superman!
, Thomas De Haven's literary exploration of the early years of the Depression-era Man of Steel. (Thanks to Patrick and Casey for my copy.)