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A Little Heartbreak, A Dose of Literary Reality

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I’m hoping this was just a speed bump on the road called Jack Reacher.

I just finished Lee Child’s latest addition to the Jack Reacher series, Past Tense, and was…What’s the word…Saddened? Untitillated? Underwhelmed?

JR is once again the middle of Nowhere, USA. He’s kinda/sorta looking for his father’s birthplace. He gets into a few fights. He wins them all handily. The end.

Of the roughly 3,454 books I’ve read by Mr. Child, this was the first time I felt let down, something many of us have experienced at one time or another with authors/artists we love. We are, after all, human. No artist can remain at the top of their A game forever (although a solid argument could be made for Pablo Diego José Francisco de Paula Juan Nepomuceno María de los Remedios Cipriano de la Santísima Trinidad Ruiz y Picasso, Mr. Picasso’s baptismal name).

I remember the first time this happened to me as a reader of fiction, feeling somewhat crestfallen, that is. I fell in love with Tolstoy at a young age, starting with War and Peace, moving onto Anna Karenina (which his old comrade Dostoyevsky called “the greatest love story ever written”), and culminating in his last novel, Resurrection, in 1899, which had a great premise but ultimately fell flat.

Then it happened with Murakami Haruki. I loved A Wild Sheep Chase. What followed (in English translation) was Hard-boiled Wonderland and the End of the World, Norwegian Wood, Dance Dance Dance, South of the Border, West of the Sun, and then his opus, The Wind-up Bird Chronicle. From there, things went south for me (but not west of the sun), including Murakami’s choice for his new translator. It began with Sputnik Sweetheart and Kafka on the Shore, and then — contrary to what some believe — 1Q84.

Alternatively, there are some “red wine” authors that seem to get better with age, like Ayn Rand (I know, I know…This will be controversial with certain readers), who went from We the Living (amazing, with a terrific ending) to The Fountainhead (profound, nearly led to a complete nuclear meltdown for Ms. Rand) to her true opus, Atlas Shrugged (which had a profound influence on philosophy, politics and social movements). The same could be said of Somerset Maugham, who started relatively early with Of Human Bondage, then The Moon and Sixpence and then, at the tail end of his career as a novelist, his opus, The Razor’s Edge.

Finally, there are the yo-yos of the literary world. Take Fyodor Dostoyevsky. He broke out to wild acclaim in 1846 with a novella called Poor Folk, and didn’t get 15 minutes of fame; he got, quite literally, 15 days of being what Guardian contributor Daniel Kalder called a “cause celebre.” It would be 20 years (of being pissed on and heckled) until Fedya D regained his rightful place as a master of fiction after the release of Crime and Punishment in 1866. His last novel, seen by many to be his opus, was The Brothers Karamazov.

As a final note, and as it pertains to the genesis of this post, 61 Hours and Worth Dying For are my two favourite Reacher novels to date.

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If I Could Turn Back Time…

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No, it would not be to recreate a Cher song. Or maybe it would. I’m not sure at this point because I have the stupid thing playing on a loop in my head right now.

Writing for futurism.com, Chelsea Gohd published a piece called “We Can’t Alter The Flow of Time But, According to Physics, We Can Bend It” a few days ago, and I lapped up every word.

We’ve all considered the notion of time travel at one point in our lives. Don’t deny it. Ever since that excellent! film (not movie) Back to the Future II, when Biff steals a sports almanac and goes back in time to make himself crazy rich, we’ve all entertained notions of joining the Biffs of the world.

As far as I understand – and with much of what I learned at M.I.T. relegated to the depths of the Mariana Trench – Einstein conceived of travelling forward in time (assuming we could reach the speed of light), but never back in time. He did leave open one possibility that even he could only speculate about: wormholes.

Although I’m generally apathetic when it comes to sci-fi literature and movies, I’ve been thinking a lot about the space-time continuum lately because of a Korean novel I’m helping to translate, author Kim Hee-sun’s The Multiverses of Infinity (무한의 책).

It goes without saying that I’m ecstatic to be part of a project I truly believe in and helping breathe life into it for English readers one day. (Think Kafka meets Murakami Haruki in a dark Prague alley, somehow the two speak the same language, and after a quick meet-and-greet of sorts, they decide to stroll off together to a Harajuku jazz club, where they will discuss beautifully shaped ears and huge insects.) And since the plot of Multiverses involves a character going back in time, it’s got me thinking.

Without giving away too much of the plot, the central driving force for this character to go back in time is to help someone, not hurt them, and not to benefit in any selfish way like our friend Biff. If we as human beings ever do come up with a way to travel through time, I can’t help but wonder what our motivation would be.

Anyway, Ms. Gohd’s article on space-time is nothing short of fascinating and illuminating. And to quote Gohd quoting Stephen Hawking at the end, “Even if it turns out that time travel is impossible, it is important that we understand why it is impossible.”

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Kafka Makes His Canadian Court Debut

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It really is the small things in life that bring me a tremendous amount of pleasure. One of these things is when anything literary or linguistic makes its way into a court of law, which it did recently in New Brunswick, that scandalous little province always punching above its weight class.

In an article titled “Just what does ‘Kafkaesque’ mean? A New Brunswick judge weighs in,” Canadian Press journalist Rob Roberts reported from Fredericton about Paul Lynch, a local lab janitor, who was nailed for his 7th DUI-related offense in 2015. According to Roberts, “Because of his prior convictions, he [Lynch] was immediately remanded pending sentencing, and later sentenced to six months in jail.”

Here’s the problem: Nobody came to his hearing and he was never able to make a phone call, so when he didn’t show up for work the next day – or the 180 days after that – his employer fired him.

Seem logical and by the book? Well, not if you have a cursory understanding of Franz Kafka. Per the article, “In a new ruling, Justice Hugh McLellan defines Kafkaesque as the struggle ‘against rules and forces that cannot be understood.'”

What the Franz?

“Labour adjudicator John McEvoy ordered the health authority to give him his job back, in a decision that declared ‘no one . . . should face the Kafka-like situation faced by Lynch in respect of his inability to contact his employer.'”

While a little more out there than the “Oxford commagate” debacle in a Maine court case earlier this year, it’s interesting to note that Justice McLellan even invokes the legendary Prague, Bohemia, Austro-Hungarian (now Czech Republic) writer’s name in the first place, as notable publications like The New York Times and The Atlantic have published pieces in the recent past asking whether “Kakaesque” is “‘a word so overused it has lost all meaning?'”

Perhaps that’s why younger readers now say Murakamiesque? Should you need any clarification of what this adjective means, definitely pick up The Elephant Vanishes, though A Wild Sheep Chase and The Wind-up Bird Chronicle would suffice as well.

Literature aside, how can a Canadian citizen be arrested, convicted and then essentially forgotten about – and all without a single phone call?

I suppose you could ask The Globe and Mail (“Here’s how to fix a broken system“),  The National Post (“No faith in our justice system“), The Huff Post (“Canada Doesn’t Need To Fix Its Justice System. It Needs a New One“), or The Georgia Straight (“The Canadian justice system is so broken it’s criminal“).

Then again, if you wanted a slightly more objective POV, you could refer to last year’s report from the Macdonald-Laurier Institute, which graded provinces and territories in five categories: public safety, victims support, efficiency, fairness and access to justice, and costs and resources. Benjamin Perrin, a UBC professor of law, was one of the report’s authors.

How did Canada’s most populous province fair in the report card assessment? We suck, bottom third of the provinces, and an overall rating of a C+. Why, you ask? According to one CBC report by Alison Crawford, “Perrin points to how police can directly lay charges in Ontario.” That’s right. They don’t need the OK from the Crown beforehand (like in Quebec), nor do they even need the consent of an alleged victim.

As a result, says Mr. Perrin, “[T]here’s an awful lot of people being dragged through the Ontario criminal justice system who are ultimately having their charges stayed, withdrawn or acquitted. That is costing millions of dollars to the province but it’s also plugging up the system so that really important cases don’t make it through..”

That fact is scary enough, but what’s even more frightening is that Canada ranked 12th among 113 countries surveyed in 2016, according to the World Justice Project Rule of Law Index, “the world’s leading source for original, independent data on the rule of law.”

So, Mr. Lynch, if you think you had a Kafka-/Murakamiesque experience going through the justice system here in Canada, imagine what it would have been like in bottom-of-the-heap No. 113, Venezuela, 18 spots below Sierra-freaking-Leone and two spots down from Af-oh-my-ghanistan.

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Remembering Raymond Carver

LATE FRAGMENT

And did you get what

you wanted from this life, even so?

I did.

And what did you want?

To call myself beloved, to feel myself

beloved on the earth.

(from the inscription on Raymond Carver’s tombstone)

James Carver recently wrote a very nice piece about love, literature and remembrance that he posted on medium.com called “A Tribute to Raymond Carver on His Birthday, by His Brother James — With Never-Before-Seen Family Photos” to commemorate his late brother’s birthday, which was May 25. His big bro was an American literary giant in his day, author of notable works like Cathedral and the stories “Why Don’t You Dance?” and “Errand.” Although he lived a somewhat scandalous, alcohol-fueled life (on a par with other writers like Hemingway, Kerouac and Fitzgerald at times), he’s regarded as a titan in the field of American literature, as evidenced by his induction in the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters in 1988.

For those who’ve read Raymond Carver, the link might not seem so obvious, but he actually had a profound effect on another giant’s writing: Murakami Haruki, author of international bestsellers like The Wind-up Bird Chronicle and A Wild Sheep Chase and, more up Carver’s alley, short story collections like The Elephant Vanishes. Today, there’s even a Japanese professor named Hosea Hirata who teaches a course on the subject and the correlation between the two authors.

For those not in the know, and as his go-to translator Jay Rubin wrote about in Haruki Murakami and the Music of Words, Murakami used to very much enjoy his Suntory time, maybe not as much as Carver liked his booze, but the two connected early in the Japanese writer’s career, when he was just trying to get a foot in the door with the whole translation thing. In fact, as Rubin documents in detail, another American literary great, John Irving, whom Murakami went jogging with in Central Park to earn Garp’s trust (which he did after proclaiming his admiration of Setting Free the Bears – ouch!), represented one more of Murakami’s earliest inroads to the country’s literary establishment.

That said, I like what brother James had to say at the end of his short piece, as it sums up not only his relationship with his brother, but many of our own relationships with a lot of the people whom we love:

“I miss my brother very much. I loved him and respected him enormously…We can’t really get inside the other person’s mind to see how it ticks; we can never know the true feelings one may have for another. We can only be guided by the things said and the feelings shown to us by the other person, and believe it to be true. Ray captured the complexity of those relationships, in love or outside of love.”

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