Eiji Miyaki is a young man in search of his father. In a modern, Japanese, coming-of-age tale, he doesn’t meet his father but if his goal in meeting him was to learn something about himself, well that happens in spades. Eiji’s father is fiercely protective of his paternity and keeps a watchdog lawyer and assorted Yakuza goons to keep Eiji from meeting him. The story meanders through derailments on Eiji’s journey. When Eiji hits a roadblock, or is planning a next step, he frequently diverts into fantasy sequences that imagine the outcome. These various (dream and then, sometimes real) sequences involve the lawyer, a beautiful cello-playing coffee shop waitress, the new wife, his (unidentified) grandfather, a kamikaze-submarine-navigating great-uncle, yakuza henchmen and bosses, women of the night, yakuza business women, crazy and endearing bosses, an aspiring computer hacker, a magic-performing pizza delivery man, a dream sequence with John Lennon, a talking chicken, a talking goat-novelist, and fantasy creature called Pithecanthropus. His alcoholic mother who basically abandoned him as a child also wants to work on their reunion. Eiji also extensively recalls moments with his deceased sister. And that’s not all. No! I didn’t take shrooms prior to writing this review!
So you may already be intuiting what this review is getting at. There is A LOT to digest in this book. Too much, in fact. I still don’t even get what the connection to John Lennon’s #9 dream song is supposed to be about. The book indicates that #9 dream is a sequel to Norwegian Wood, which is a nod to Haruki Murakami’s best seller of the same name. But if Mitchell was trying to channel Murakami, it did not succeed, in my opinion. Also, I had to read some other reviews to make some sense out of the talking goat/chicken/Pithecanthropus sequences which are introduced to the novel as the writings of another author in whose house he stays when needing to lay low from the yakuza. There is so much going on in this book, it even needed two authors. Apparently this meta-author is saying something about the state of modern fiction and the circumstances of writers. There’s even a line “words never filled my belly” or something to that effect. If you read this, skip those passages. Or read them all together afterwards.
The editor really needed to say “Whoa. Dude.” (in his best Joey voice, of course.) I believe the book would have benefited greatly from an entirely different editor. Someone who could differentiate volume from quality. Parts of the book are awesome and fun. It just didn’t need 11 million parts. Some parts really left me head scratching, wondering if the time spent was truly contributing to the overall narrative. The best parts are when he stumbles into an acquaintance with a yakuza member which leads him as close as he will get to his father. This initially brief interaction leads him down a long and fascinating road, deeper into yakuza territory, where there is one surprise after another and leaving Eiji to figure out what he will do when confronted with the option of committing violence to someone he doesn’t know. Or the integrity he has to compromise in order to get as close as possible to the father he so desperately wants to meet. And how much a new love can be such a relief from the ugly parts of the world.
One of the most memorable lines for me was along the lines “people who write about violence have never really experienced it, because those who have just want to forget about it.” It made me think about what we really get out of escapist entertainment – shoot-em-up movies, blow-em-up movies, Walking Dead, Fight Club… it’s an open-ended thought for me right now.
The other best part was Part 9 of the book. I’m sure Mitchell tied it to the title, but I don’t know if that has any great import. Anyway, the first page of the last chapter is blank. For me, that is a really cool way to end the book. Part of the endearing disappointment of reading a great book is that you can physically tell when it is coming to an end. And sometimes you just don’t want a great book to end (Rainbow Rowell, right now I am thinking of you). And that little gift of an author to let you continue that story in your own way or your own mind is a neat little device.
It was a long, tough read for the Cannonball. Should you take this book on, take it in small bits, maybe on a beach somewhere. You’ll get a great tan 🙂