The cover on the left is not a mistake. It’s for the novel written by this week’s teen reviewer. Yup. High school student. Cool novel completed. Website created. And she likes talking to me. Go figure.
Sometimes in life you get lucky. I told Suzanne Supplee, an author I met at a Maryland librarian’s conference (MASL), that I would work as a mentor for one of her creative writing students from The Carver School in Baltimore. In being told the student would submit a full novel to me for review, I was not sure what to expect, but I certainly didn’t expect anything as incredible as what Rachel Sparza (aka R.R.S.) had produced. She wrote a speculative fiction/dystopian novel, a genre with which I am obsessed, and created a story that was immersive and original. I read the first book, PIERCING MIDNIGHT, of planned trilogy. Rachel takes criticism far better than I do, and I enjoyed the heck out of watching her drafts roll out. I hope to meet her in person once school ends for us both. For more info. on her book, check out her website: http://the-infinity-chronicles.com/
Now on to her review!
“It’s true, though: time moves in its own special way in the middle of the night.” – After Dark
Haruki Murakami’s After Dark suspends readers between the borders of night and dawn, reality and make-believe.The novel takes place in modern Tokyo, Japan in the course of one night, and includes an ensemble of characters as unusual as the lives they lead. This includes (but is not limited to) a young trombone player who attracts the attention of any passing cat, a female ex-wrestler love hotel owner who has a knack for giving sage advice, a young girl who reads alone in Denny’s after the sun has gone down, and her stunningly beautiful older sister who has decided to literally sleep through the rest of her life. The perspective shifts from character to character, and the reader is caught in a torrent of mystery, metaphysical drama, and the complexities of human relationships until the very last page.
This is the book that got me running down the library aisle to snatch up all of the Murakami books available once I was done with it. It’s slim, a mere 205 pages, and it may only report on the happenings of one night, and yet it packs the full punch of delivering flesh and blood characters, both light and satisfying emotions, as well as the heavy, crushing realities of the horrors of this world. It is a book unlike any other by Murakami, and I have found after reading many of his other works (Dance Dance Dance, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, Norwegian Wood, 1Q84, Colourless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage, and The Strange Library) that he is a writer who enjoys recycling character tropes and literary elements. I mean, good God, he really has a thing for mopey 30-something guys who are after manic pixie dream girls and who listen to sad classical music (not to mention he has a fixation on sheep + man hybrid creatures??) But, alas! This book, the first of his I took a peek at, remains to be my favourite, and it is absolutely unique against his literary backdrop and those of other magical-realism writers.
I have recommended this book to countless friends who have book tastes of all sorts, ranging from Twihards to Sci-fi geeks to Austen lovers to classic Russian lit fans. What makes this book so universally appealing, I believe, is the vast range of personalities woven throughout the story, as well as the thematic elements. First off-
Murakami’s writing is exceptionally cinematic. His narration doesn’t just show the readers what he wants us to see , but guides us like a camera lense. Take a look at how chapter two begins:
The room is dark, but our eyes gradually adjust to the darkness. A woman lies in bed, asleep. A young, beautiful woman: Mari’s sister, Eri. Eri Asai. We know this without having been told so by anyone. Her black hair cascades across the pillow like a flood of dark water.
We allow ourselves to become a single point of view, and we observe her for a time. Perhaps it should be said that we are peeping in on her. Our viewpoint takes the form of a midair camera that can move freely about the room. At the moment, the camera is situated directly above the bed and is focused on her sleeping face. Our angle changes at intervals as regular as the blinking of an eye.
Secondly- every character has a story, and every story intersects; whether those crossings are literal or merely thematic. It is astounding how well we get to know each of them in their own right over the course of only one night, and especially how much emotion we invest in each of them. Take, for example, the character of Eri Asai who you saw in the excerpt. She is asleep THE ENTIRE BOOK. When do we see her, meet her? While she’s in bed. Asleep. Not a peep from her until the last page. And yet, through what is revealed about her through the anecdotes of others, and the details given about her current state, she turns out to be one of the characters readers have found themselves most intensely sympathizing with. Not to mention- everybody likes meeting strange and cool people, right? There are plenty of them in here, as well as the not so savory ones with blood on their hands and a man who hides in television sets and has no face.
Finally- this book is weird. This book is good. Read it at night for the full experience. If you can, read it all in one night so that the sense of time passing isn’t lost. Even better- read it at midnight in a booth at a Denny’s restaurant to get the full experience of the first character we meet. While at times Murakami’s language is poetic and long-winded, After Dark never fails to be understood and adored by readers of all walks of life. I highly recommend this novel to anyone who loves experimental, character-driven stories that intertwine the complex truths of life with the mirage of consistent reality. After Dark leaves many mysteries unsolved, but just as many hints at how the “night people” will make their way in the darkness without needing the dawn to ever come.