Friday, October 4, 2019

Review: Wind/Pinball

From Wind/Pinball: Two Novels, by Haruki Murakami:

Open quote 
In the bottom of the first inning, Hilton slammed Sotokoba's first pitch into left field for a clean double. The satisfying crack when the bat met the ball resounded throughout Jingu Stadium. Scattered applause rose around me. In that instant, for no reason and based on no grounds whatsoever, it suddenly struck me: I think I can write a novel."

The foreward (above) to "Wind" reveals how Murakami decided to become an author. The result is two short works that share a narrator and characters and setting.

Grade: C+

Haruki Murakami is probably my favorite author. I am slowly reading my way through all of his works, so it's inevitable that I would eventually reach his debut works, "Hear the Wind Sing" and "Pinball, 1973", retranslated and published together for the first time in 30 years. These are separate works, but they can be read and reviewed as a single work.

There isn't a plot. It's more like an account of daily happenings over the course of a few weeks or months. The unnamed narrator is a young Japanese man who works as a translator. But that job is only to put food on the table. In "Hear the Wind Sing" the narrator meets and interacts with uniquely odd characters in similar situations. One is a nine-fingered girl who works in a record store. Another is an aimless barfly named Rat. For a brief time in "Pinball, 1973", the narrator lives with unnamed, indistinguishable twins. They tell him their names don't matter. He calls them 208 and 209 because that's what is printed on the fronts of the sweatshirts they wear. None of these relationships is meaningful. None "go" anywhere. But all reveal traits of Murakami's writing style that is present through decades of his novels: themes of loneliness and alienation, his interest in Western music, both classical and popular music like jazz and the Beatles, smatterings of philosophy.

The narrator's only passion, and that only for a short time, is pinball. He is obsessed with one particular pinball machine, a model with three flippers called Spaceship, which he plays incessantly until he becomes probably the world's best player. In the most unforgettable, surreal scene of the novel, after the pinball parlor is torn down, he tries to track down whatever happened to the machine he played. He finds it in a warehouse of obsolete and abandoned pinball machines owned by a collector. But like everything else in these novels, this scene doesn't lead anywhere either. Once he finds the Spaceship pinball machine, he turns his back without playing it.

I can't say either of these works is great fiction. But they are short, easy to read, and best of all, show a young author in his first, early attempts at telling stories, an author who will develop into one of the world's best writers.

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