The Difficulty in Dancing

by Andrea Macalino

▶︎ In order to hold procrastination at bay, one must, well, do. I thought about starting this review long hand, while I have no time to really focus on a laptop or computer screen when there are handouts to think about, but no: what I want to say is easily available in my mind, about Haruki Murakami’s Dance Dance Dance. I don’t know if it’s taboo to read this right after The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle — only that I would not recommend these two one after the other.

Of course, blatant comparisons are also supposed to be a no-no when writing reviews; let the work stand for itself, is the likely rule. But I refuse, if only because Dance Dance Dance, I feel, strips away what is usually the given (and therefore practically expected) premises of Murakami’s novels, such that they also serve to suspend disbelief. The ability of his protagonists, to put on hold the search for economic stability, in favor of searching for what will fill their frenetic unease, has always attracted me because I believe that it is what many of us would opt for, if we did not believe that even our physical (read: financial struggles) are also somehow integral to our concept of self.

In Dance Dance Dance, all these things (the search for an existential answer, the momentary leave from the day job, the inner turmoil, the unexplainable need to follow one’s guts although nothing else in the plot prior seems to dictate its necessity), are present, but the chronicle of actually telling it is garbled. Many times I wondered if the novel was really meant to start this way, in medias res, and if so, then why?

I rolled over in bed, stared at the ceiling, and let out a deep sigh. Oh, give in, I thought. But the idea of giving in didn’t take hold. It’s out of your hands, kid. Whatever you may be thinking, you can’t resist. The story’s already decided (Murakami 6).

Here, too, Murakami’s protagonist searches for someone he believes is crying out for him. We are told — as we can assume strikes a similar note in his other novels — that something is incomplete in the protagonist’s life, that there is something he missed when he previously underwent a self-imposed hermitage. These, undoubtedly, are the things that make Murakami’s characters endearing, particularly to me; this is why it was a surprise, even to me, that  the protagonist in Dance Dance Dance disappoints.

Yes, I remind myself even now. All of Murakami’s characters dance to a tune that is understood only by the reader seeking refuge from a mega-capitalist world and the characters themselves. But Dance Dance Dance‘s protagonist reads more like a pale reckoning of the other two protagonists I’ve encountered in Murakami — of indeed, all his other complex characters. When I think of this particular nameless protagonist, I realize that I agree with many of his principles on capitalism, and the apparent self-defeating value of “popular” industry.

And with not one speck of ambition, not one iota of expectation. My only concern was to do things systematically, from one end to the other. I sometimes wonder if this might not prove to be the bane of my life. After wasting so much pulp and ink myself, who was I to complain about waste? We live in an advanced capitalist society, after all. Waste is the name of the game, its greatest virtue. Politicians call it ‘refinements in domestic consumption.’ I call it meaningless waste. A difference of opinion. Which doesn’t change the way we live (Murakami 12).

The real problem though, is that as the novel progresses the protagonist becomes the horrific, transparent character one might pride herself or himself on hearing about but only encountering (with luck) once in a blue moon. There’s not much excitement in the plot, because no matter what moral dilemma presents itself, Murakami’s character is able to untangle the knots in the situation. The journey to clarity is not as fraught with pathos as would be needed to captivate the reader’s attention. Whether it’s rearing a child, treating women with grace, or confronting instances that only vaguely resemble the paranormal, the protagonist becomes a straightforward book of morals, minus, at least, the condescension.

Ah, but there is the matter of a redeeming quality (sold separately most of the time, as it is not a requirement).

There is still something that at least attempts to be a ballast to the protagonist’s transparency, and probably because of Murakami’s material, it should come as no surprise that it lies in fear of losing one’s anchor. So while the protagonist’s consciousness holds no surprise (perhaps like the mega-capitalist world the novel accepts and bewails), there is still a breath of fresh air at the end of the novel, but it is so faint, it comes only as a sense of relief, instead of catharsis. ***

Andrea Macalino is a graduate student of Comparative Literature. This was published in her blog in Nov 2012.