This summer I've had the pleasure to read both 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami and The Prospect of My Arrival by Dwight Okita. The books were very different, and yet there was a similarity to their style - a deceptive simplicity, deepening excitement, addictive prose, and a sense of melancholy and wonder throughout.
1Q84 is a doorstop of a book that originally was published in three volumes in Japan. It is perfect for anyone who is looking for a book for autumn, one that will last through quite a few rainy nights. Murakami writes about a woman, Aomame, and a man, Tengo. They go through separate adventures that interact in Murakami's signature mysterious existentialism.
Aomame gets out of a cab one day and climbs down from the highway into a world that has two moons. There she finds that things are a bit off. The world has shifted. In that new alternate universe, a beautiful young girl called Fuka-Eri writes about Little People. They appear out of a dead goat's mouth and build an Air Chrysalis. There are two moons, and a Town of Cats.
Meanwhile, Tengo is working to polish and publish the manuscript by Fuka-Eri called Air Chrysalis. There are fascinating minor characters, such as the man who leads a powerful cult, a man that Aomame is contracted to kill. There is Ushikawa, the man hired by the cult to find Aomame. Each of these characters is more than they appear - they unfold, like origami, into balanced people with depth and emotion.
I am already a huge Murakami fan; Kafka on the Shore is one of my very favorite books. To be able to spend a summer reading a long novel by him was a real gift. And he didn't disappoint - 1Q84 satisfied my delight in urban fantasy, science fiction, action, and wonderful writing.
The Prospect of My Arrival was a different kind of read. It is much shorter, for one thing. I read the book in a few evenings, although in part that was because I simply could not put it down. Okita uses dreamy prose that is reminiscent of Murakami. He pumps up the volume on the science fiction, as the book is about a scientific and moral experiment.
Prospect is a foetus, a baby about to be born. He is given enhanced intelligence and a twenty-year-old body and sent out into the world to see if he wants to be born.
To help him in his decision, he is sent to visit Referrals. The book is the story of those visits on one level, but there is a thread of other plots connecting those stories. There are people who are against the Pre-Born Project and who want to stop it at all costs. There is also a love story between Prospect and Lito, his second referral. Okita manages both deftly, making the first exciting and the second lovely and touching.
I have read some reviews on Amazon about The Prospect of My Arrival that complain about the spare prose. Okita uses short sentences and simple description, but to my mind it is done very artistically. The book is like a Mondrian painting. It seems very straightforward at first glance, but there is a complex structure and design behind the simple sentences. And those short phrases echo the soul of Prospect who is, after all, a foetus.
In one scene, Prospect meets his mother in the Shedd Aquarium. They talk about his sister, Joyce, in front of one of the tanks of jellyfish. "As they leave this place, jellyfish descend in slow motion like parachutes onto the bright coral reefs below them." This image is echoed in another Referral's home. "Sheer pink curtains flutter from the open windows of the living room. They move like jellyfish in the summer breeze."
The jellyfish encapsulated the book, to my mind. The words move lazily, dreamily, like underwater creatures, and yet they are mesmerizing. The plot and the prose seem so simple, and at the same time they are lovely and complex.
Can you get excited about the story of a foetus who may or may not decide to be born? Oh, yes indeed you can. As I said, I could not put it down, and I had a very sad feeling when the book ended. Luckily, Okita has other books coming out, such as The Hope Store, and I will certainly be purchasing everything by him.
I read Prospect as a Kindle book. Formatting is an art unto itself, and Okita's format is breathtaking. He includes images and chapter headings that make this a joy to read. However, the story was so amazing that I need to get the print version and beg the author to sign it for me. Okita is a name to be watched on the Indie front.
This review also appears on The Dark Side Book Reviews blog.