That box represents nearly everything I believed about writing fiction. I read one novel of his and with each new word my mind processed, a new tear showed up on the box until I wasn’t thinking outside of it anymore. Suddenly, the box just stopped existing.
How Did He Do It?
I started writing fiction the same way everybody else did – read, learn, copy, struggle, find your own voice, read some more, evolve. The cycle that never stops. Everything I read when I was a teenager bordered on cautious – beautiful, but lacking in the kind of ‘humanity’ I could relate to. Every plot and character presented themselves to me with a veneer of kind pretence. I could almost hear them ‘tap dancing around the truth’ as Judy Reeves put it in A Writer’s Book of Days. Not that it’s bad or wrong. They cater well to their target market. Somewhere between eleven to seventeen years old, I suppose I shied away from that market. I felt that just as I’ve evaded the depth I yearned for in my reading, I’ve also starved my own writing.
The prevalence of suicide in Norwegian Wood and his other novels instigated the riot that would lead to my liberty from the basics of writing that served as my restraints. Murakami came in a white horse and worn armour, casting depression and suicide and sex and politics and telling me: hey, I want to write it this way. Who’s mandated to stop me?
He talks About Depression and Suicide. Big Deal
It is a big deal. Humans are wired with an attraction to beginnings and endings, particularly in the form of life and death. As a writer, you possess the power to give and take away those two things. You feel that responsibility deeply. Abuse it and your plot, your style, your characters – they all fall victim to melodrama.
Murakami, however, did it without abusing his authority as a writer or molesting the notion of lives lived and lives lost. Finally, I realized what he was trying to teach me.
Murakami came to me this time and whispered: life happens. Got it?
What was that Box, Anyway?
That box kept me from realizing that my novel is mine before it is anybody else’s. Until I learn to manipulate it with a selfishness that makes it impossible for others to appreciate, I wouldn’t be able to revise it with a selflessness that would let others glimpse the rawness of my intentions.
And my intentions stand with one foot on the beach where the imperfections of real life gather and the other foot on the sea where impossibilities melt together to form the clear water that cover 70% of Earth.
The box where realism, strict grammar, stiffness, fear, and innocence lay torn on my doorstep. Murakami destroyed it with the help of the monkey in Shinagawa Monkey, Kafka from Kafka on the Shore, Junpei from The Kidney Shaped Stone that Move Every Day, and the other odd but honest characters that complete his works.
I told myself that if Murakami could get away with explaining memory loss by creating a thieving, speaking monkey then what are the limits?
I can just hear him confirm that there’s none.
I still reread his books or hold them close to me whenever I’m writing and in danger of betraying the rebellious nature of my creativity. I hold onto his books because he wrote stories where most questions remained unanswered. He soiled each story with a sense of continuity by breaking the rational and keeping mum about the answers. And that was the depth of humanity I was searching for. It’s just impossible to put a period to all we are – good and bad – even in fiction.