"The Year of Spaghetti" by Haruki Murakami

New Yorker fiction -- November 21, 2005 issue

red light
What in the hell is up with this "story"? Now, I have liked some of Murakami's New Yorker stories in the past -- they are at least always interesting -- but this is nothing more than a sketch, some ghost of an idea for a theme for something. Spaghetti as obsession, as loneliness, spaghetti as symbol of alienation and despair, spaghetti as the unruly mass of chaos it is better to swallow than face. Give me a break.

The narrator can't handle human interaction anymore. People disappear "into the shadows," but there is always spaghetti! A pleading phone call from the ex-girlfriend of a B team friend is the only action here, and our narrator begs off to cook some imaginary spaghetti, then regrets it later, pointedly invoking spaghetti as the stand-in for his loneliness. Curtain.

Come on! Boooo! And I don't blame Murakami. I mean, if I wrote a short sketch about, say, Hostess Cupcakes as a symbol for my shallowness, and my agent sold it to the New Yorker (stop laughing! this is theoretical), what am I going to say? No? Not unless I'm an idiot. "Nineteen eighty-three was the Year of Hostess Cupcakes..." Why the hell not! Print it, you magnificent bastards! Print thousands and thousands of copies, mwa haa haaa!

Or it could be I'm missing something. If so, please elighten me.


kclou said...

Here here, Grendel! I often feel an Emperor's New Clothes vibe with Murakami stories. When I finished his last story in _Harpers_, I literally threw the magazine across the living room in disgust. He's written some quality stuff, and I've even taught him in the past, but he gets away with way too much trash and in the best fiction outlets. Annoying.

MSF said...

grendel, i think your version would be more effective with sugar sandwiches. just a thought.

Grendel said...

1976 was the Year of Sugar Sandwiches!

Everytime the NYer pulls a stunt like this, I wonder if there is a diversity quota, and I mean an international one. "Okay, too many American realists lately, gotta branch out for a week. Say, we still have that Murakami sketch lying around? That'll do. Check!" And then a week of long lunches. I don't think they realize they are doing perceptible damage to our desperate, homegrown writers. This week's Murakami bullshit means that someone in that slushpile may forever stay "in the shadows."

Saltwater Farmer said...

The New Yorker's Deborah Treisman addresses "The Year of Spaghetti" in this interview with the Seattle weekly 'The Stranger':


CF: Sometimes I get to the very end of a story that I’ve been enjoying all along and the ending really disappoints me.

DT: Someone actually just said exactly the same thing in David Shields’s class about the story this week—I don’t know if you’ve read it yet, a Haruki Murakami story, where it’s very vague and then the very last line refers to loneliness. And the student said he just hated that it was made so explicit, that he’d like this guy being lonely without calling it lonely. And I can see the point. It wasn’t something that bothered me when I was reading the story, but I can see that response.

Grendel said...

First, thank you, Saltwater Farmer, for alerting us to this interview. I must say I feel pretty stupid riffing some fantasy about how little they care, long lunches, blah blah. I'm just blowing steam and being a blowhard. Of course they care and God bless them for it and may Deborah Treisman keep it up forever. If I were one of the six editors, we would have disagreements, and this story would certainly be an occasion for one of them.

I was also struck by her description of the Ozick-Pamuk discussion of imagining an evil character's point of view. I would definitely come down on Pamuk's side, because, as Jim McPherson put it so succinctly in class, "There should be no limits whatsoever on the writer's imagination."

Who am I to argue with Ozick, though? Who am I to pass judgment on a luminary like Murakami? I certainly wouldn't want to, heh heh, alienate someone like, uh, Deborah Treisman, or anything -- especially since I myself have a story in her slush pile right now. Thank God for Blogger pseudonyms. Just doing what they taught me in workshop: formulating an aesthetic one piece of writing at a time, figuring out what works and what doesn't -- in my opinion, in this forum where everyone else is free to comment, too.

Brando said...

If Deborah Triesman is reading this, Grendel is really John Updike.

I am going to write a story called, "The Year of Crystal Pepsi," It will be about how the lack of cola color was symbolic of white supremacy.