February 10, 2011 Leave a comment
I think I have read enough Ryu Murakami at this point to safely call myself a connoisseur without sounding like too much of an asshole. This Japanese horror writer always manages to tickle my gag reflex or give me school bus giggles. He is lurid. He is inventive. He is hilarious.
However, if I wasn’t a Murakami-sseur, I’m not sure his novella Popular Hits of the Showa Era, most-recently translated to English, would inspire the sort of “supple undertones, oaky aftertaste” style of fandom I’ve developed. In fact, I’m not sure I’d bother following his career. Luckily, I count his novel In the Miso Soup among my favorite books of all time and was appropriately stunned at the first sentence of Coin Locker Babies so I know how to sift out the moments of gold in this sort of crudely-drawn semblance of a story well enough to consider it a fine read.
The story stars two dueling factions: A herd of 20-something misfit boys who hang out on Saturday nights and watch the neighbor lady get naked, have Rock/Paper/Scissors contests and then jet off for the finale: A fully costumed and instrumentally outfitted go-round of karaoke; A herd of late 30-something women known as The Midori Society, a faction of divorced or otherwise single women united by the same last name, although not related.
One of the boys commits a random act of fatal violence against one of the women, and the other women find a clue to the killer’s identity at the crime scene. They kill him back while he’s mid-stream in public urination. A junior college girl — who is the butt of most of the story’s humor because of the grim effect she has on people (“It seemed as if even her voice were sprinkled with disease dust …”) — witnesses the second crime and soon Team Boys and Team Women are trying to off each other in new, exciting, bigger and badder ways.
One of Murakami’s trademarks is the barf-inducing death scene where a throat is slit and spills blood the color of soy sauce or a crazed fiance goes Pampered Chef on a guy’s Achilles Tendon. There is so much back-and-forth death in this book that the descriptions are visually dulled, only once really going crazy on the way a bullet hole can rip into a face (“twisting the face like a wrung rag”). He seems to replace it with humorous set-ups to the deed: The women meeting with a military specialist. The boys renting a helicopter.
So the premise is good. The story is a little random and frequently veers into a silliness that doesn’t seem to translate. But there are these two-to-three sentence gushes, quintessential Murakami, that make Hits of the Showa Era worth reading. But only after you’re already a fan.
This review was posted on Minnesota Reads on February 10, 2011.