Popular Hits of the Showa Era / Ryu Murakami

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Wow. I do not know what to make of this book. I’m not sure if it’s satire, something that’s supposed to mess with your head, or both. There are some brilliantly off characters. Not off in that there’s something slightly wrong with them. Off in that they are just wrong. They’re thinking is unrecognizable. This isn’t just a book of anti-heroes. With an anti-hero, at least I can understand their motivations, even if I don’t like them. These characters are all train wrecks, and I couldn’t look away.

A group of six young men meet regularly for parties. Only they don’t know how to throw parties, even for themselves. They hold tournaments of rock, paper, scissors to see who will be lead singer in their monthly karaoke. Karaoke which they set up themselves on a deserted beach in the middle of the night. During a chance encounter, one of them murders a middle-aged woman he meets on the street. She’s a member of a group of middle-aged women called the Midoris, because they all share the same last name. They, in turn, take revenge by murdering one of the five youths. This begins a vicious cycle.

What makes the book is not the plot. It’s the off characters. And apparently there’s social commentary going on here, but I don’t know enough to make a lot of sense of that. For instance, when the young men head to the country to buy a guy for the next round, their dealer sagely describes their motives as pure for wanting revenge on an oba-san. This is just after a discussion between them on what kind of oba-san she is, the kind that prepares pickled daison strips, or the kind that sings fashionable pop songs (it’s the latter, they conclude). Is this commentary on how culture hates on people who sing pop songs?

The book is readable. The oddness makes it somewhat interesting. Kind of like watching a shock comedian, not because he’s funny, but because you want to see what he’s going to say next.

I struggled on what to write about this book. It’s been nearly a week and I still don’t know what I think about it. So I struggle no longer. Decided just to write out my basic response, stop trying to deconstruct, and move on to my next book (which I’m loving so far).

Title: Popular Hits of the Showa Era
Author: Ryu Murakami (村上 龍)
Translator: Ralph McCarthy
Imprint / publisher: W. W. Norton
Format: Advance Readers Copy (ARC)
Length: 193 p.
Publication date: January 2011
ISBN-13: 978-0-393-33842-3

I received a review copy for this book from the publisher through LibraryThing’s Early Reviewers program in exchange for a review to be posted on LibraryThing. In accordance with my policy on review copies, I will donate $10.17 (the price of the book on Amazon.com) to the A.L.S.A.

Categories: Book Reviews.

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