Tag Archives: Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World

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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It’s Only Partially All Doom & Gloom. Sort of.

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Not surprisingly, @TheEconomist published an interesting article last month titled “A sense of dread.” Ooh ooh ooh! the reader says excitedly, head in hands, lunch about to be expelled through their oral cavity, Another Armageddon scenario where we all perish and the world blows up in one final fiery scene that is caught on camera by a distant NASA satellite called CovfefeMyAss. This will represent the sum total of all we have to bequeath future intelligent life years/centuries/millennia from now. No remnants of our scientific achievements, art, or philosophy left for posterity’s sake. Conspicuously, no remnants of us.

WTF? they’ll say when they come upon the footage in this now-rogue satellite spinning out of control somewhere near Andromeda. Doesn’t this remind you of that scene in Star Wars when the Death Star is blown up? one guy will say to his fellow smarter-than-human-beings colleagues.

Ha ha ha, they’ll all respond. Good one, Red Leader! That was funny.

Ah, doom and gloom. Or is it? Is it in fact a Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World, or are we merely repeating, ad nauseam, what our forebears have done for time immemorial, which is to do believe what The Economist declares: “There is nothing new in society being gripped by anxiety about the present and pessimism about the future.”

As my mother likes to remind me on a weekly basis, today’s youth is so much more screwed up than the last, what with their ear thingies in their ears and their handphone thingamajigs in their hands as they walk down the street. And why don’t young people have home rotary phones in their homes anymore!

Ha ha ha. Just kidding, Mom. It’s all good.

To return to Economist-like seriousness, though, the above link reviews a book by Richard Overy, a noted World War II historian, and his latest addition to the literary world, a book that focuses on the years between the two wars (1918-1939). It was a time when “the presentiment of impending disaster was even more deeply felt (and perhaps with better reason) than it is today. Indeed, Mr Overy sets out to show that it was a uniquely gloomy and fearful era, a morbid age that saw the future of civilisation in terms of disease, decay and death.”

Let’s step back in history for a moment, shall we? This should be fun. In that 21-year inter-war period, the world saw, in no particular order, the rise of a virulent strain of communism and Marxism, the brutality of the Spanish Civil War, a surge in polio cases throughout developed nations, the introduction to the world stage of winners like Hitler, Mao, Mussolini, Stalin & Franco, the world’s first carpet-bombing campaign carried out on Geurnica, the average life span in rural communities in the richest countries not surpass the average age of death for a well-to-do Greek person 2,000 years earlier, and, of course, the Great Depression.

The list is obviously longer. However, like cream-colored ponies and crisp apple strudels, these are just a few of my JA-inspired favourite things that popped to mind.

Today, inundated as we are by real-time news stories and a constant barrage of images, soundbites, texts, alerts, online posts, emails, retweets, etc., it might truly feel like we are balancing precariously on The Razor’s Edge.

But are we?

For example, what if the poles were to reverse on themselves as a result of global warming? No big deal, says NASA. It’s happened many times over the millennia, naturally, and we’ve lived to talk about it. But what if global warming leads to another glacial epoch similar to the last Ice Age? Well, Homo sapiens appear to have survived with little more than some sticks and stones last go around, so I’d imagine we 21st-century human beings might be able to weather it, as a species, even if millions did perish in the geological catastrophe.

On the other hand, global warming is destroying our ozone layer, which in turn makes it potentially impossible to walk outside with exposed skin one day, a very real health risk, not to mention the melting of polar ice caps, floods, draughts, extreme weather patterns – you get the picture.

There’s also something unique that we have been living with since the Baby Boomer generation that no other civilization in history has had to contend with: the potential to annihilate ourselves in planetary suicide through the use of manmade weapons of mass destruction.

Contrary to what some believe, though, we are still in the midst of the longest era of global peace the world has known since we invented the means to kill each other in greater – and quicker – numbers. We’ve eradicated more diseases in the last century than all of human history put together. Knowledge, education and the sharing of information has never been this affordable, convenient or readily accessible to the masses. Eat your heart out, Gutenberg.

These are the veritable “Doorbells and sleigh bells, And schnitzel with noodles” we should be trying to focus on as we’re pummeled with streaming videos of captives being beheaded in foreign lands, women and girls raped in the name of “religion,” food banks overrun in the biggest cities throughout the “developed” world,  mental health cases spiking everywhere (although this is probably more just the world waking up to its reality and not denying it any longer), and the world’s most powerful Commander-in-Chief seemingly bent on bringing ruin to the planet as expeditiously (that means “promptly or “quickly,” Donnie T.) and with as little covfefe (………………..) as possible.

Long of the short: As much as we love to talk about the doom and gloom drenching us like a cancer with more cancerous cancerness than the last generation, I think it’s time we realize that things may not be quite as covfefe as we tend to think in our dark hours of Trumpian pessimism. As a famous author once said when writing about subjects like War and Peace, “We imagine that as soon as we are thrown out of our customary ruts all is over, but it is only then that the new and the good begins…There is a great deal, a great deal before us. I say that for you.”

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