This is a bit of my homework for a class I am taking, Comp. & Lit. A story was read aloud to us in class, and these are my reactions, both as I heard it, and after a day of musing on it, with the three questions I will be turning in as homework. I know I come to this with a wholly different perspective than most of the kids in my class, who barely read, let alone think about why they like what they like. This class won’t help them on that, either, but I can at least try, in my own way, to point out what is going on here.
As I listened to the story in class, I wondered something. How many of you think this story was original? I don’t mean in the general terms of “love’s lost” but the whole idea of meeting someone on the street, falling instantly into infatuation, and then the second concept of both suffering from amnesia and losing their memories of one another. As the story was read, a Doors song (Ed. to correct from Beatles, h/t Eric Anderson and Philip White) was running through my head, “Hello, I love you, won’t you tell me your name?” and following on its heels were images from the movie “An Affair to Remember.” I’m also certain I have read several novels dating back at least a hundred years, that shared some of the same elements. It’s nothing new to understand that very little fiction is truly original. One idea, written in story form by a half-dozen authors, will result in greatly different forms. But when this many tropes and stereotypes come together in one place, it results in what Sarah A. Hoyt calls “gray goo” and it’s boring to read. She says in a blog post on Human Wave fiction: “Grey goo, in which characters of indeterminate moral status move in a landscape of indeterminate importance towards goals that will leave no one better or worse off is not entertaining.”
My second observation was that fiction is supposed to be somewhat plausible. If you jolt a reader out of their suspension of disbelief hard enough, they will stop reading. As a writer, this is something that concerns me. I left this story with the concept that both were struck down by an illness that caused both of them amnesia. It’s just too improbable. Mark Twain says this about that, in Pudd’nhead Wilson’s New Calendar: “Truth is stranger than fiction, but it is because Fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities. Truth isn’t.”
Thirdly, you will note that I do not regard what the two main characters feel is love. This is perhaps a personal bias, but what we may feel for another at first sight can undoubtedly be powerful, and can lead to love, it’s not something that happens in an instant. That would be attraction, or infatuation. Murakami’s premise is that the protagonist ought to have followed up on his feelings, alone, and that by his allowing logic to enter the equation, he ruined his chance with the girl. Then at the end of the story, he further reveals that it was all introspection on the boy’s part, he had never spoken to the girl. The ending ‘was all a dream’ is another oft-used, and cordially despised by most readers as overdone and unsatisfying, fiction device.
So my three questions are:
1. Does originality matter to you, the readers?
2. Did the loss of memory by both protagonists bother you?
3. Was it really love?