“Anyhow, let’s wait till the fire burns out,” Miyake said. “We built it, so we ought to keep it company to the end. Once it goes out, and it turns pitch-dark, then we can die.” -From Landscape with Flatiron-
This short story, part of a group of stories entitled After The Quake, occurs over the course of one night with three friends sitting around a bonfire. Miyake is an older man with an obsession in building the perfect bonfire. He befriends Junko, a young woman who lives with her boyfriend Keisuke and is estranged from her family. Whenever Miyake is going to light a bonfire, he calls Junko to come down and watch it burn; and the two of them have an unusual connection. Junko’s boyfriend, Keisuke, is a musician who lives in the here and now and has difficulty understanding Miyake and Junko’s relationship.
“The trouble is, I don’t have a damn thing to do with anything fifty thousand years ago – or fifty thousand years from now, either. Nothing. Zip. What’s important is now. Who knows when the world is going to end? Who can think about the future? The only thing that matters is whether I can get my stomach full right now and get it up right now. Right?” -From Landscape With Flatiron-
Much of the story revolves around a philosophical discussion between Miyake and Junko. It is important to understand that Murakami wrote this story shortly after the Kobe earthquake; and the themes of death, an uncertain future and the larger meaning of life resonate throughout the prose. I have heard many interesting things about Haruki Murakami’s literary works – but until I picked up this short story on line at Ploughshares, I had not read anything by this writer. Murakami’s prose is full of symbolism and beautiful imagery. Initially the story’s meaning completely eluded me…but I read this for the 21st Fiction Yahoo group and discussing it with the group gave me insights I had missed on my own. My appreciation for the story grew as we discussed the various parts of it.
This is a writer who I am curious to read again. I would recommend this short story with some reservations – for many readers, it may be a frustration in trying to tease out the symbols and understand the underlying messages (which I admit I am still working through). But this is an excellent short story for group discussion, and the writing itself is worth the effort.