Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Dance Dance Dance by Haruki Murakami (Book Review)

Haruki Murakami
Dance Dance Dance - 7.5/10

I am a huge fan of Haruki Murakami's books. "Dance Dance Dance," originally published in English in 1994 is the eighth book of his I've read. It also might be the most fun of his books. It had the chance to maybe be one of his best, but the ending let it down.

Unbeknownst to me when I picked it up used a few years back, it is the sequel to "A Wild Sheep Chase" which I liked very much, and which thankfully, was a bit different too than his other works. His brilliant novel, "The Wind-up Bird Chronicle," has a similar structure to his novels "Kafka on the Shore" and "1Q84" amongst others with multiple interweaving stories and timelines. While some hints of that exist in both "A Wild Sheep Chase" and "Dance Dance Dance," both are focused on one protagonist throughout and tell a fairly linear story (at least as linear as Murakami is going to get!).

"Dance Dance Dance" picks up with our unnamed protagonist back from his sheep chase, back in Tokyo, no longer working with his long-time business partner, and instead picking up freelance journalism doing puff pieces for random magazines. It's a living, it makes good money, he doesn't mind it, someone has to do it. But he is being called, years later, back to the rundown old Dolphin Hotel in Sapporo from "A Wild Sheep Chase". He is being called by Kiki, only he hadn't yet learned her name, the girl with the ears from the prior novel.

Now back inn Sapporo, he finds that the old Dolphin hotel is gone and in its place a sleek, top-of-the-line, fancy hotel called l'Hôtel Dauphin has been erected. But the old Dolphin is not totally gone. Somewhere, on the 16th floor, but not the 16th floor, is a remnant of the old Dolphin, an alternate universe where the Sheep Man ties all the lose ends together. When our protagonist gets trapped in this alternate 16th floor, the Sheep Man tells him he must keep dancing.

But still no signs of Kiki. Why was she calling to him across space and time? No sign that is, until she shows up in a movie, staring the very same movie star that the protagonist went to middle school with. From here, the story connects several murders, a one-armed man, a psychic 13-year old and her brilliant but aloof photographer mother, the movie star, a hotel front desk worker, several days in jail, a couple prostitutes, and a few weeks in Hawaii. And still, Kiki is missing.

Is this a murder mystery? Is this an existential tale of self-discovery? Is it a bored divorcee writer learning to live again? Yes, and probably a lot more too. But unlike some of Murakami's best known works, I think this one is more about his joy of writing and our joy in reading than it is about how it all comes together.

And that joy is evident. Murakami mentioned in an interview how much he enjoyed writing this book and it shows in the prose. It reads much lighter and swifter than his other works. It's a page-turner, rather than a slow burn. It still has all the classic Murakami structures and strangeness and existentialism, but it also has an underlying sense of fun that shines, even though the translation.

So as a fan of Murakami's works, and this being a really fun read, you'd think it was all positives, but there's a pretty decent problem with the book. The ending. It comes up fast, and it's a bit disappointing.

SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS - don't read the following paragraphs if you don't want to know how things end.

So Kiki has been missing but calling out to him, even "appearing" once. He meets and falls for a hotel front desk working in Sapporo, then meets a 13-year old psychic whose parents ask him to care for her because they're busy and she's weird. He also meets the sheep man in an alternate universe and is told he needs to keep dancing. He sees Kiki in a movie staring his middle school classmate. He reconnects and befriends this classmate and they get a pair of hookers together. Then the one the protagonist was with is found dead a few days later. He's taken in for days of questioning but the police know he didn't do it.

STILL SPOILERS: Then the protagonist is off to Hawaii to connect the 13-year-old with her mother who is now dating a one-armed poet. In Hawaii he has a vision of Kiki who shows him a room with five skeletons. Back in Tokyo, he goes to see the movie again with the 13-year-old who tells him that the movie star killed Kiki. Then the movie star more or less confesses and commits suicide. Now Kiki, a prostitute, the one-armed man (who was hit by a truck earlier, did I forget to mention?), and the movie star are dead. There's one more skeleton in the room.

MORE SPOIILERS: He goes back to Sapporo desperate to keep the hotel front desk clerk from becoming that last skeleton. They finally have sex (something he's wanted to do since he met her at the very beginning of the book) and then they try to track down the sheep man who is gone. He awakens thinking that the hotel clerk is dead, but she's just waiting to have sex with him again. Relieved that it was the sheep man's skeleton and not hers, he decides to move to Sapporo to be near her and decides maybe to write something for fun instead of his crap puff pieces. The end.

AND MORE SPOILERS: So...was Kiki calling to him in the very beginning just a way to start a journey to get him laid by the hotel clerk and writing meaningful stuff again? Was all the death in between was just to support that? Was the 13-year-old psychic who we come to care about so much, but who is just dropped from the story after being the focus of more than 1/2 the novel, just a prop in the journey? I don't really know, but the ending came so quick and with such little revelation that it was shockingly simple. Things weren't really tied together, the deaths didn't seem meaningful, it was more like just a bunch of things that happened in his life that helped him get out of the drudgery (example, was the 13-year-old's only point to actually connect Kiki's murder to the movie star? Is that why we needed her in the book? Cause that's a lot of ink and caring to spend on a character just to connect the dots and then be dropped from the story). I mean, the outcome for the protagonist is sort of good and all, but for the intensity of every character and interaction, the end result was pretty pedestrian. There really wasn't any big revelation, any big understanding, any real resolution. Just a "oh, whew, the people I really liked are all dead now, but at least I'm sleeping with the hotel clerk and maybe I'll write a short story too." Um, sorta lame.


So basically, the book was really really fun with great characters, interesting drama, mystery, deaths, and lots of interesting insight and humor and rumination and whatnot...but the ending just happened quick and was a pretty minor outcome given the immensity of the setup. Had the ending somehow been...I don't know...bigger? more thoughtful? deeper? then this would have been a possible 9/10. But given that the ending was sort of a let down, I can't find a way to give "Dance Dance Dance" more than a 7.5/10. The vault was excellent, but it didn't stick the landing.

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