I'm not a very good writer, but I am awesome.
Hold up. Wait a minute.
What I mean by that is though I usually know how to put words together in a way that conveys an idea - at times, even an action - and this fact makes me competent, it doesn't prove that I can move you. All it proves is that I'm just like every other sap with a college degree who has too much time on his hands and hasn't found his calling in life - at least not a calling that would make a person a little money, unless someone out there has found a way to turn a profit making plaster-casts of horse penises. As far as me being awesome, I only mean that I was born with it and I'll always have it, and I wish you knew how it felt, but you don't so stop bugging me about it.
I mention my mediocre literary skills as an introduction to what I'm about to do next: criticize one of contemporary literature's world heavyweights. Now, before you say, "Oh, but American Mastodon, everything is within your jurisdiction of expertise - including, but not limited to, the proper way to construct a perfect roguefort cream sauce, how to safely inseminate a great white shark in the wild, where to find the G-Spot, and who to talk to if you'd like to see the world's last remaining Tasmanian Tiger (the species was thought to have gone extinct in 1986)," please remember that none among us is perfect, except Jesus, who lives in our hearts.
If you were to say the above, you'd be mostly right, but there is one area where I plead ignorance, and that is in the field of literature, though I feign this deficiency softly; in public, I do it unconvincingly and in private I don't do it all. With that said, I don't mind telling other people whether or not they're good, bad, or just right, like the porridge in that one story, the really neat one with the bears.
Haruki Murakami, for instance, is one of those authors that doesn't seem to know how to write very well. In fact, sometimes I think he doesn't even know English! (Disclosure: I don't think Murakami does know English - he at least doesn't translate his own work.) Here are some excerpts from his short story "Where I'm Likely to Find It," recently published in the New Yorker:
She closed her eyes as if recalling it. If we were in a Hitchcock movie, the screen would have started to ripple at this point and we'd have segued into a flashback. But this was no movie, and no flashback was forthcoming. She opened her eyes and went on.
Not that Denny's made great pancakes - the butter and the syrup weren't up to my standards - but they would do. Truth be told, I'm a huge pancake fan. Saliva began to well up in my mouth. But I shook my head and tried to banish all pancake thoughts from the time being. I blew away all the clouds of illusion. Save the pancakes for later, I cautioned myself. You've still got work to do.
It's almost as if Murakami writes like a high schooler trying to write like a real author. "Let's see - this sentence here seems fine, but it lacks punch. Maybe I should put a metaphor in there somewhere. No, wait! I'll just throw in that cliche I heard yesterday!" I personally don't want to read a short story or a novel and see the words "Truth be told" unless someone's saying it. There is absolutely nothing in Murakami's work (or at least in the two novels and few short stories I've read) that really hits me as great writing. And yet...
And yet, that's precisely why I love his stuff. This morning while reading "Where I'm Likely to Find It," I found it difficult to put it down and get back to work. Granted, I was squeezing out a Dodger dog in the crapper, and that is always an opportune time for reading, but the simpleness, directness, and cheesiness of Murakami's prose is also one of its greatest assets. His works lull you in with their awkwardness but also with their consistency, so that as you work your way toward the end of the piece, you begin to concentrate even harder on the rare occasions when he tries to piece together something sublime.
I put down the phone. For a while I sat there, slowly twirling a brand-new pencil, staring at the blank memo pad in front of me. The white pad reminded me of a freshly washed sheet just back from the laundry. The sheet made me think of a calico cat stretched out on it for a pleasant siesta. That image - of a napping cat on a freshly laundered sheet - helped me relax.
Murakami is like that really quiet kid you knew who never said much because he never felt like he had to. But when he did, it was always a little weird, always a little funny, and always awesome.
And friends, I know awesome.