I had 15 seconds during which to bolt down into the library – no not a typo; for reasons known only to late-70s civic leaders, my branch library is underground – and grab an audiobook or two for the ride north. I'm not a big audio person – I have no regular commute, and my home life is too loud and distracting for home listening – but I like listening to books on solo car rides. Anyway, so this was swept up in my arms without much thought other than I'd read one other Ishiguro and liked it.
The first story, “Crooner,” was read beautifully, the reader affecting the indeterminate Eastern bloc accent of the first person narrator, maybe Romanian with a Hungarian overlay? without falling into Borat. The American interlocutor from the story, a 50s crooner whom the narrator idolized from youth, was spoken so differently that I thought that it was another reader entirely for a while, and that's cool. It's a story about meeting your idols and having them become men, and some of the pieces of the story were wonderful to me: the narrator talking about the black market in music under the Iron Curtain, the fragility of records and memory, the politics of playing in bands that cater to tourists, and how that relates to larger politics. But the crooner's story rubbed me the wrong way, as did his diction, which was too John Wayne, too fake American, like something Agatha Christie would write, with her Americans “opining” and saying “look here” and calling everyone “friend”.
I've always said I like when non-Americans write about the project of America, and I think I still do – when the narrator talks about the transmission, through music, of the American style of sadness, which is bound up in the road and boundless optimism, I was leaned in. But then I didn't like at all the way this American talked, the things he said about how America worked, the central conflict of what was going on between him and his wife. That was bullshit. It's possible someone would think that way, but he would never ever say that stuff out loud, not like that, not so bald and on the nose. Plus, frankly, the story was a little boring.
So then I move onto the next story in this collection, “Come Rain or Shine”. Another first person narration, about a British guy going back to England to stay with friends from college. He's been an ESL teacher in Spain with no particular ambition; his friends are successful finance types who view him as a sad-sack and a whiner. Turns out his friends' marriage is on the ropes, and he's pulled into a plot by the husband to be so lame that the wife will take the husband back. This doesn't make any sense, of course, and the plot moves forward with histrionics and hissed conversations, building to a scene where the narrator is on the floor, having wrecked the living room in order to cover up the fact that he's snooped on the wife's diary through a phantom dog attack he's orchestrating- I know, that doesn't make any sense either – on his hands and knees chewing the pages of a coffee table book, and then he realizes that...DUNDUNDUN...the wife has unexpectedly returned home and is watching him.
I swear, my hand snapped out like a snake and turned the book off of its own volition at this point. NOOOOOO. I HATE SITUATION COMEDIES. I hate them. They make me feel horrible in the joints of my jaw, the weird taste I get when I eat too many scrambled eggs. They make me squirm with embarrassment for everyone involved: the characters, for being so fucking stupid and constructed, for me having to watch this unfold in such a schematic way, for the author for putting that situation out into the world, a little plastic snow globe of plot that blizzards in the same fake ass way when you shake it. The situation comedy on screen can be bad – oh noes! Jack Tripper has to pretend he's gay even though he wants to hit it with that girl, and now he has make-up on his face, and there's a marmot in the fridge! ZOMG! - but it's a thousand times worse with a first person narrator, who has to justify these increasingly stupid antics without the physical comedy that can make watching teevee sit-coms workable.
Maybe this could have worked third person, maybe, with a narrative voice that was more broadly comic, more suited to the wild-eyed stupidity of the characters and their situation. Even then, the build was too slow, allowing me to see what was coming far too early, the Chekhovian gun not so much set on mantle as shoved up my ass and fired until the gun went click click click. No. I don't know how this story ends, and maybe it's a brilliant ending, reversing all my kvetching, but I will never read/hear it. Barf.
And then, that was it. I didn't want to go on with this collection, afeared I would encounter more of the same, so I put in a bunch of mid-90s screaming girl bands that were popular with me when I was a lass, even though much of it embarrasses me now, and sang along. My daughter joined in with the Liz Phair, because apparently she has good hooks for 4-year olds, even if maybe I don't want the girl singing “fuck and run” at daycare. I dig what Ishiguro was going for in this collection, music and regret and nostalgia and whatever the opposite of nostalgia is – shame? - but I'll just work that out in my own situation non-comedy, thank you.