Norwegian Wood (from movie)Yesterday morning, I finished reading Murakami’s Norwegian Wood.

It was raining, unusually cold for an August morning, and almost coal black. I couldn’t imagine a better morning to finish this particular book. I sat in silence for a good hour after closing the cover, thinking to myself. (Who else would I think to?) Beethoven was playing in the background. It colored all my thoughts for the rest of the day.

While reading, I suggested it to several people, and one of them asked me if I could explain the ending to her. She was looking for a sort of resolution that Murakami seems typically reticent to provide.

As a result, I’ve been thinking about resolutions. Well, I’ve been thinking about many things, but one of the threads is resolution. I’ll share my notes, and hope that you aren’t offended by “spoilers,” because personally, I could give a damn—any story worth reading is worth reading. It isn’t about the ending.

The idea of “spoilers” themselves gives us a starting point. There are certain expectations that most readers put on endings. It’s an unrealistic expectation, given the nature of life—often the endings that count the most seem to come unexpectedly, out of nowhere. You’re crossing the road thinking about the complications posed by the two women you love, and wham! a truck hits you. These endings resolve nothing.

My point is, endings and resolutions are not the same, and an ending doesn’t need to resolve anything. Something can end, people can drop out of our lives as if they had instead dropped off the face of a steep cliff. But there is no resolution. Similarly something can resolve, and in the process transform into something else, which is a way whereby an end can be turned into a beginning. The Death card in the Tarot is said to be a resolution, for instance. It isn’t necessarily an ending.

Now that we’ve got that straight, I’d like to return to Murakami’s ending for Norwegian Wood, and its lack of resolution.

I phoned Midori.

“I have to talk to you,” I said. “I have a million things to talk to you  about. A million things we have to talk about. All I want in this world is you. I want to see you and talk. I want the two of us to begin everything from the beginning.”

Midori responded with a long, long silence – the silence of all the  misty rain in the world falling on all the new-mown lawns of the world. Forehead pressed against the glass, I shut my eyes and waited.

At last, Midori’s quiet voice broke the silence: “Where are you now?”

Where was I now? Gripping the receiver, I raised my head and turned to see what lay beyond the phone box. Where was I now? I had no idea. No idea at  all. Where was this place? All that flashed into my eyes were the countless shapes of people walking by to nowhere. Again and again I  called out for Midori from the dead centre of this place that was no place.

Here the protagonist is calling Midori—the girl he has decided he wants to be with—and she is distant, but she does take his call, which reaches her as if over this great expanse. When I read it, it seemed as if the camera was pulling away at the end of a movie, and he’s just this little piece of jetsam floating in the ocean. The protagonist fades into a sea of people, no longer central, no longer even notable. Just a face, a dot, nothing at all. More notable, you never find out what Midori’s reply is. There is no resolution.

This seems to be a common element in Murakami’s stories, for instance in many short stories in The Elephant Vanishes, and it is a tendency that I personally find refreshing, given how much pressure I’ve been handed as an author to always resolve everything. When you don’t, some people accuse you of bad or sloppy plot-work, as if you simply forgot to resolve that which you intentionally left unresolved.

Another misconception that arises from this approach is that it is at all new. It has been one way of ending a piece of classical music since Beethoven, radical that he was, played games with the form. At the end of some Beethoven pieces, he ends on an unresolved chord.

Murakami is employing the same kind of ending. In fact, I could almost hear that repeated, lingering chord at the end of the Moonlight Sonata as I read those closing lines to Norwegian Wood.

This was one of the many things which in his time was considered incredibly controversial and original. We can’t hear Beethoven now, I mean, we can’t hear how revolutionary he was. We’re too used to it because he was so successful in changing Western music. Success can come along with its own form of curse, so that while he may be immortalized, the reasons that he’s been immortalized are in some ways obscured by the enormity of his success.

My point is this: we shouldn’t feel pressure to resolve our stories in any particular way. Our job is to find what a story wants to be and help nurture it. Some pieces may call for a classic resolution, or even an ironic twist on the classic resolution, like at the end of the 7th symphony 2nd movement, where the ending seems to be almost an ironic telegraph—“here is the ending you were expecting.”

But if the resolution to a story would require a new book, then give your reader a wall of mist, rather than that. You aren’t law-bound to provide a resolution. Midori’s answer, given across that immense expanse, is the beginning of a new story, not the ending of that one.

Not all calls are answered. Not all chords are resolved.

 

(By the way, a little bit of self-patronage: my novel Fallen Nation: Party At The World’s End was just published. I’m going to go buy myself a bottle of wine and think about beginnings, now.)

 

There are a couple of scenes in A Common Pornography where you have sexual encounters with men. Were these moments erotic to you at the time?

You use the word “encounters” like they were aliens. But those particular moments were not really erotic. I’ve had other experiences with guys that were much hotter.


So, are you bisexual?

As Kurt Cobain said, “Everyone is gay.” But I would say that I mostly identify as a queer straight.


When you were driving around naked at the beginning of the book, something that happened just a couple of years ago, were you aroused?

No, but I’ve driven around like that too.


If you were to drive around naked now, what song would you crank on the car stereo?

Something perverse like Beethoven.


Do you have any bumper stickers on your car?

I have an Obama/Biden sticker that was printed by our union at Powell’s (the ILWU—longshoreman, bitches!) and a big Cardinals emblem because they’re my favorite football team.


Do you read the reviews of your books?

I do, and they’re good for the most part. I’ve gotten a few bad reviews too though. They do hurt my feelings sometimes. I could easily go to Twitter or Facebook or wherever and talk about how much of a bitch so and so from the Boston News or Minnesota Herald is, but I restrain myself. I don’t want to cause negative drama or to look like a baby. We’re all professionals here, right?


What’s the worst thing that someone has said about A Common Pornography?

One blogger said it was “one of the three worst books of the year.” A pretty funny thing to say actually—I mean to come up with the number three! Hahaha. He has the rest of the year to find two worse books than mine. But really, it’s no big deal. I know that some people are just not the right person or reader for the book. I want everyone to like it, but that’s not going to happen. Still, if you don’t like the book, then something is wrong with you.


You have been part of the independent publishing scene for about twenty years, what are some of the other publishers you admire?

That’s kind of a stock question, isn’t it?


Let me rephrase it. Which small publishers would you marry, fuck, and kill?

I would marry Akashic because they’re adventurous and treat their people well. I would fuck Cleis because they put out a lot of dirty books and they’re probably good in bed. And I’d kill Publishing Genius Press because they’re from Baltimore and I heard it’s easy to get away with murder there. Plus I think Adam Robinson owes me ten bucks.


Has anyone from your past contacted you about your book?

A couple of people. It’s interesting to hear the reaction from old girlfriends especially. Erin, who was my first girlfriend that I lived with said, “I don’t remember doing some of those awful things, but they sound true.” Another girl that I mention very briefly in the book sent me a message and said she was glad that I didn’t use her real name—but she meant it in a nice way I think. And I hate to even talk about this but my first high school girlfriend tracked me down and sent me a typo-riddled Facebook message. She’s one of the few people I really have no interest in talking to. It made me a little sick to see her note. I’m a really positive and friendly person and I don’t believe in hating people, but I have to say that I kind of hate her still.


After working on a memoir, is it hard to get back into fiction?

I’ve found it extremely hard. I tried to start a novel last year, a few months before ACP came out, and I hit a roadblock after about 20 pages. I still like the idea of it though, so I hope to get back into that. In the meantime, I have written a couple of other nonfiction pieces. One of them was about dirty talk and then something about music memories. l I also have a pretty funny essay about my vasectomy operation but I haven’t sold it to anyone yet.


Is it true that you proposed to your girlfriend at the end of your Powell’s reading back in February?

A: Why, yes, that is true. And no, we did not recreate the moment when I read in other cities, although some people wanted us to. You can actually see an across the room view of the proposal on Youtube. We’re hoping to get hitched before the end of the year.



here are three chapters in American Psycho—“Huey Lewis,” “Whitney Houston,” and “Genesis”—in which Patrick Bateman, the narrator, ruminates on three of his favorite musical acts. In the third such chapter, he writes:

I’ve been a big Genesis fan ever since the release of their 1980 album, Duke. Before that I really didn’t understand any of their work, though on their last album of the 1970s, the concept-laden And Then There Were Three (a reference to band member Peter Gabriel, who left the group to start a lame solo career), I did enjoy the lovely “Follow You, Follow Me.”

By this point in the book, Bateman has already mutilated a homeless saxophone player, chopped a co-worker to death with a chainsaw, and served his girlfriend a used urinal cake dipped in chocolate. But it was only upon reading the preceding paragraph that it really kicked in: “He thinks Phil Collins is better than Peter Gabriel?!?! Holy shit! That guy’s fucking nuts!”