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Dance explores line between real and imaginary

Dance Dance Dance

A Novel by Haruki Murakimi.

Translated by Alfred Birnbaum.

Published by Kodansha International Ltd.

393 pp.

By Charaf Sedreddine

From the first page, Dance Dance Dance by Haruki Murakimi promises to deliver something. The protagonist, an efficient if bored writer whose name is never provided to the reader, has strange dreams that call him from his daily life in Tokyo back to the Dolphin Hotel in Sapporo -- a place he once stayed at for a week, sleeping there with a beautiful woman, at a time that seems far from the present, almost from a different life.

Capitalism, the paranormal, and beautiful women are the dancers whose dance seems to make up Murakimi's fiction. In fact, three of the six women who are named in the book are very sexy prostitutes, two more are gorgeous telepaths, and while the remaining woman is merely beautiful. She is hard-working and shy, as if she were aware of being quite outmoved by the others.

The men are more varied, though all but the protagonist are like comic strip characters. They include a stunning and psycopathic actor, a one-armed American poet named Dick North, and a rich hack writer with an unlimited expense account. The plot, involving an unsolved murder mystery, is choreographed by a creature who shuffles around in the dark, wears a sheep's costume, and speaks his words in slurred sentences, directing the narrator: "Yougottadance.Aslongasthemusicplays."(p86.)

What does all this mean? Well, Murakimi's talent for writing and for the bizarre keeps the plot going for most of the 393 pages of Dance Dance Dance, which adds complication upon complication in a series of dizzy steps. As the plot becomes more and more elaborate, even the narrator becomes confused and draws a diagram to clarify the situation for himself and the reader. But at moments like these, you might say: what's going on here? The narrator is confused and so am I -- the heart of the novel does not burst, but rather is stripped bare.

For all its trappings as a supernatural thriller, Dance Dance Dance is about a middle-aged man with a wild imagination. He is confused by his reality -- to the last page where he finally makes love to the merely beautiful young woman -- by his relationships with women, both in body and in mind, and with his male peers as he ages in an ever changing Japanese society.