Note Books entry from Rennie Sparks

Tuesday, 14th April 2009

The Note Books series features musicians discussing their literary side. Past contributors have included John Darnielle, John Vanderslice, and others.The Handsome Family releases their new album, Honey Moon today, and it is truly an honor and pleasure to have the band's lyricist Rennie Sparks contribute a Note Books essay.In her own words, here is the Note Books entry from Rennie Sparks of the Handsome Family:The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki MurakamiToru Okada hears a bird calling from the alley behind his house and he decides that it sounds exactly like a mechanical spring being wound up. So begins a serious of oddly-connected events that escalate from Toru’s cat disappearing to his wife running away. Eventually Toru decides that both his wife and his cat can be brought home if he climbs down to the bottom of a dried-up well and sits there for days without food or water. It turns out that he’s right.Like most of Murakami’s other books, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle beautifully mixes dreamlike surrealism with meticulously-detailed realism. Murakami’s simple yet sensuous depictions of everyday life— what people eat for dinner, what they bring to the dry-cleaners, how they decorate their house— cast a sheen of mystery and magic over ordinary moments so that even reading Murakami’s description of a morning spent housecleaning is utterly captivating.The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle interweaves such mundane routines (commuting to work, shopping for groceries, buying underwear) with tales of horrific violence set in Japanese-occupied Manchuria during WWII (the slaughter of zoo animals, a man skinned alive, men forced to dig their own graves, Russian prison camps…). One minute you may be reading about a soldier tortured to death and the next about Toru making spaghetti, but somehow Murakami makes such disparate stories feel strangely connected. In the end such far-flung narrative lines connect perfectly and infuse everything with awe-inspiring power and purpose— from a pair of old sneakers to that strange creaking bird still calling from the alley.Murakami’s writing is so precise that you really can read about someone making an omelet or buttering a slice of toast and be just as riveted as when he describes the execution of two caged tigers by Japanese soldiers. You end up feeling like any moment in any life has the same potential to be revelatory— shopping for socks or marching off to war, drinking coffee or beating someone over the head with a baseball bat. This strange feeling stays with you long after the story ends.