"Where else would you go when you have an ax to grind?"

Friday, May 25, 2007

Master of creepiness pens dark tale of damaged lives


By Ryu Murakami

Translated by Ralph McCarthy

Penguin, 185 pp, 13 dollars

An ice pick is a very simple tool that focuses the strength and weight of the user's arm onto a tiny, needle-sharp point, allowing the shaft of the ice pick to easily penetrate deep into a rock-hard block of ice.

Like the ice pick that figures so prominently in its pages, Ryu Murakami's Piercing focuses the life stories of a pair of complex characters into single harrowing encounter that transfixes the reader from the arresting opening scene.

To say Murakami's work is often dark would be an understatement.

In his best-known novel, Coin Locker Babies (1980), one of the main characters drops nerve gas on Tokyo. In the Miso Soup (1997) is about a psychopath carving a bloody trail through the capital's red-light district. While the body count in this newly translated 1994 novel is considerably lower, for sheer creepiness, Piercing puts both of the aforementioned books in the shade.

Ralph McCarthy, having previously translated In the Miso Soup and the considerably lighter 69 by the same author, seems well versed in the intricacies of bringing Murakami's subtleties into English with a sparse, matter-of-fact prose style that adds further impact to the stark brutality of the violence.

Piercing begins with Masayuki Kawashima, a successful graphic designer for an advertising agency, married to a kind and loving wife. His life seems the paragon of domestic bliss, but for the last 10 nights he has spent hours after his bread-baking wife has gone to sleep standing over his baby daughter's crib with an ice pick, trying to convince himself he won't stab her.

Kawashima decides that the only way to overcome his obsession with using the ice pick, and the fear that he will harm his daughter, is to stab someone else instead. He puts a few days into planning the perfect crime and under the pretext of taking a business research trip, checks into a top-end Tokyo hotel intending to use it as a base of operations to murder a prostitute. Further meticulous preparation ensues, during which the reader gets glimpses of Kawashima's nightmarish childhood and the brutal beatings his mother routinely inflicted on him before he was taken away to live in an institution for abused children.

Murakami then switches point of view to Kawashima's intended victim, Chiaki, a call girl who specializes in S&M games and who is also a survivor of childhood abuse. Chiaki's mental health is as dubious as Kawashima's and the roles of predator and prey become confused as the novel teeters between psycho-thriller and black farce as Murakami switches points of view, often revisiting scenes to give contrasting perspectives. Such a he-said/she-said approach would be doomed if not for Murakami's use of third person narration.

On the surface, Piercing is a chilling horror novel in the vein of Thomas Harris' Hannibal Lecter books, but on a deeper level it is about the vulnerability of children and the lasting damage that results from abuse. Both Kawashima's and Chiaki's deranged behavior stems from the coping mechanisms they have developed to survive their respective childhood ordeals. In the widening gyre of their adult lives, things fall apart and the coping mechanisms become psychoses that fill them with passionate intensity of the worst sort.

(May. 26, 2007)

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Not to sound like a paranoid conspiracy nut, but...
It is strictly speculation, but could philanthropist Glen Davis have been murdered because of his support of the conservation movement? He gave millions a year to the World Wildlife Fund and the Sierra Club and that may not have sat well with some of the more extreme "traitorous liberals should all die" types out there. He survived a vicious beating two years ago that was never explained and his attackers were never caught.
I'm not saying he was killed because of his involvement with the environmental movement - I don't know enough about the other aspects of his life to say that there wasn't some other motive for the murder. But when I see the kind of overblown rhetoric that gets thrown around on the right side of the blogosphere about how this person or that person should die in some horrible way because they don't have the same beliefs as the poster, I always wonder how long it's going to be before some nut job take the idea to heart. Certainly, this has happened in the abortion debate. Call those doctors providing abortions baby-killers enough times and viola, some fetus fetishist dingbat decides to be judge, jury and executioner and plant a "pro-life" bomb at a clinic or shoot a physician in front of his family.
I don't know whether Davis was assassinated for giving millions to the World Wildlife Fund and the Sierra Club, but sadly it isn't beyond the realm of possibility

Speaking of nutjobs with bombs - While I'm sure sensible people everywhere would feel bad if there had been violence at Jerry Falwell's funeral, apparently it was his own guys that were ready to start throwing firebombs. Wasn't Fred Phelps and his addled band of cultists supposed to be picketing there?

Monday, May 21, 2007

The devil made him do it

A male comedian dressed up like a woman saying "the devil made me do it" in a comedy routine is funny.

A fundamentalist Christian teenage mother using it to defend her teenage would-be preacher's attempt to roast their toddler alive-- ehhh, not so much.
More progressive parenting in Jebusland:

Woman blames devil, not husband for burning daughter in microwave
May 20, 2007, 12:45PM

© 2007 The Associated Press

Another weekend, another barbecue
Took the curvaceous and emminently capable Ms. Rev. Paperboy and the youngin' up into the mountains of Yamanashi Prefecture this weekend to camp out on a mountain top at The Northlands with 50 of our closest friends from my old watering hole in Kawasaki, Moby Dick, (named for the drum solo, not the whale) the friendliest bar in Japan, if not the world.

We took the train up early Saturday morning and my big little brother Take-chan picked us up at the station and whisked up up the mountain for a day of eating, drinking, loafing in the sun, barbecuing, drinking, playing music, and more drinking. The next day we got up to bright, bright (I have never wanted sunglasses so much as I did when I stepped out of the cabin - did I mention I'd been drinking the night before?) sunny weather, let the kids feed the horses at the riding stable (priceless). After checking out of the campground we took a short, scenic, vomit-filled (Anyone know what the Japanese for "Gravol" is? Dramamine doesn't seem to work on my kids, in fact, I suspect it is making them sick) drive through the mountains we stopped for soba and then took the train home.

Special thanks to Kaki-san, Takarada-san, the G-Tribe Motorcycle Club, Linn-chan and Ayu-chan for drumming and babysitting above and beyond the call; wheel man and soup chef Take-sama and of course our gracious host The Chief.

To paraphrase the master (and this is the real list): "We had 5 cases of Heineken, 2 bottles of Captain Morgan's dark rum, 2 bottles of Blanton's Single Barrel bourbon, a bottle of Black Bush, 2 bottles of Beefeater, 2 bottles of Jose Cuervo Gold, a bottle of Bacardi white rum, 5 litres of red wine, 5 litres of white wine, a bottle of Glenlivet, a bottle of Kalua, a bottle of Amaretto, a bottle of cassis, ten litres of assorted sake, a half dozen different kinds of sho-chu, 5 kilos of Rev. Paperboy's homemade spicy Italian sausage, 3 kilos of chicken, 4 kilos of assorted beef, 2 tuna heads, a dozen baguettes, a broad assortment of salads, pickles, olives, cheeses, chocolates, 'smores and 6 litres of Take's fabulous vegetable chicken-sausage soup.
The only thing that worried me was the tuna heads. There is nothing more helpless and irresponsible than a man drunk on sake in the depths of a tuna binge."

I'm not claiming we drank all the aforementioned booze - though I think I had the last beer the next morning - but we certainly put a dent in it. I know we went through about half of the Irish whisky just er...toasting my sausage -- which isn't nearly as dirty as it sounds.

And he's killed few people than Charlie Manson

Note to Conrad Black: If you want to stay out of jail, you may not want to compare yourself to the only man ever driven from the White House for his criminality.

The Money Quote:

His book, Richard Nixon: The Invincible Quest, is largely an attempt at rehabilitating the president brought down by Watergate. Had it not been for his "legal and ethical shortcomings," he writes, Nixon would now be ranked alongside Reagan andFDR as one of America's greatest presidents.

Yeah, and aside from that brief bit of unpleasantness in front of the Book Depository, the future Mrs. Onasis quite enjoyed the drive through Dallas.

On what basis can Nixon be considered a great president? His prolongation of the Vietnam war? His secret and illegal wars against Cambodia and Laos? His backing of Pinochet's coup in Chile? His backing of Indonesia's bloody invasion of Timor?

"Oh, but he went to China!" the conservatives always say. He was hardly the first to recognize that the communist regime there formed a legitimate government -- and it only happened 30 years after they had chased Chang-kai Shek off the mainland.

Yes, he ended the draft and started the EPA, but that hardly makes up for using the constitution as toilet paper.

And let's be clear: Reagan was a disaster as president. He tripled the national debt, sparked the homeless problem by emptying the mental hospitals, was a union-buster, sold arms to Saddam Hussien, gave the religious right the undue influence in U.S. politics that it weilds to this day, got rid of the FCC's fairness doctrine thereby allowing evil, lying bags of pus like Rush Limbaugh to abuse the public airwaves, contributed to international tensions and instability by heating up the cold war until it threatened to turn hot, ignored AIDS until it reached epidemic proportions and made George Bush his vice president, thus leading to the coronation of the current dolt in the White House.

And all that is in addition to the crimes he commited gassing students as Gov. of California, rushing to eagerly name names for Joesph McCarthy and making the Bonzo movies.

That Black believes Nixon and Reagan were great presidents on par with FDR tells you all you need to know about his lunatic, aristocratic Tory view of history, but if you need other reasons to dislike him look let us judge him by his actions and his words rather than his reputation as a ruthless robber baron who gutted the Canadian newspaper industry.

He also responds to the repeated attempts by the prosecution to portray him not just as a thief but prone to an over-the-top lifestyle. "It is a total fraud that I lived with any particular extravagance," he complains. "I had certain ideas about how the chairman of a big newspaper should behave. So I tried to conform to that. But I was not a vulgar person."

Contrast that with:

They also allege Black used shareholder money to partly fund a US$54,114 birthday
party for his wife at La Grenouille, an upscale New York restaurant, and charged shareholders when he took the company's jet on a personal vacation to the South Pacific island of Bora Bora.
Nothing over the top about that at all, nor his $9,000 gardening bill, although many people live on less than $200,000 a month

While he admits that there have been some "scary moments", he goes on to insist: "The game is won. I'm on an inexorable march to victory."

That is going to look so good after Lady Babs has one of the servants embroider it on a sampler for his lordship to hang in his cell.

Commenter John M. Miller correctly points out that Ford and not Nixon was the president during the invasion of East Timor. However, I would argue that as Ford and Kissinger were both Nixon appointees, Nixon still bears some degree of responsibility for what happened on their watch. The same goes for ending the draft - it was Ford that signed the papers in 1975, but the original groundwork had already been laid by Nixon, who ended active conscription in 1973.
There is one other nail that should be driven into Nixon's coffin; He brought Donald Rumsfeld (whom he admiringly called a "ruthless little bastard") into the executive branch, and thus Dick Cheney, both of whom clearly took to heart the boss's arguments about executive privilege and the right of the president to do anything he wants.

My big break
I've been asked by the proprieters (well, Dave anyways -- maybe this is his little practical joke on the others to make sure they miss him while he's on vacation) to help blogsit over at The Galloping Beaver for a couple of weeks. I'll be joining Allison from Creekside and West End Bound from Moving to Vancouver in keeping an eye on things over there. The Galloping Beaver draws a lot more hits than the Woodshed, so this could be my ticket out of the blogging ghetto -- I'll try to remember all you little people kindly when I become a big blogging star and get invited to the big blogging ethics panels on CNN. In the meantime, anything I post there I will also crosspost here. The Woodshed will still offer some exclusive content in the form of book and music reviews.