I read Liberty (by Garrison Keillor) and After the quake (by Haruki Murakami) recently. Both were good; although one was the first Keillor I’d read, and the other was one of several I’ve read by Murakami.
Liberty was an interesting book. Hilarious at points, as it lampoons the trivially tragic parts of small town life. The characters feel real, and the challenges they experience are absurd, but only marginally; there are real life, seen in a funny mirror, not something so absurd as to be unreal. [Spoiler alert: I’ll talk a little about the ending for Liberty below].
The novel’s disconcerting, in a way; it follows Clint, a mechanic close to retirement, as he organises his last Fourth of July as the head of the organising committee. While he’s doing it, though, he’s thinking about the choices he’s made, about whether he loves his wife, about whether he wants to run away with a young woman he’s met online. And the thing I found tragic is that although he vacillates back and forth between leaving and staying, and wants, desperately, to have made better choices or to leave, there is no redemption, or happy ending. It seemed sad to me; that he stayed, and didn’t follow through on what he clearly wanted. But, that having stayed, he wasn’t making the best of it either. It was the worst of both worlds, and though I liked the books, it left me feeling pessimistic about life.
After the quake was interesting in its own way. I’ve read several by Murakami now; and after a while they all seem to have a similar vague, dreamy feel. Typically with reference to classical or classic jazz music, often with wistful dreamers, vague senses of ennui, autumn memories, and people quietly doing everything things as though they’re on valium.
To be fair, sometimes it’s charming, and great to read; but a lot of Murakami at once can feel somewhat soporific. I like some of the stories in After the quake, but if you’ve already read some other Murakami, I wouldn’t recommend them.