Dabchick by Haruki Murakami, 1981
The magic trick:
Setting up a great absurdist comedy scene
To say this story is Kafka-esque is to minimize the meaning of the “esque” portion of the term. It is Kafka pure and plain right on down to the bureaucratic password that blocks the protagonist from his job. But hey, how many among us can bring to life Kafka in such a convincing fashion? Not many.
One of the main tricks I associate with Kafka is the ability to find humor in the terror of the mundane. The aforementioned password generates a hilarious conversation here between the protagonist and the doorman. The protagonist is left to guess the password based on hints. He then argues that his guess meets the conditions of the hints and is therefore correct, even as he is told it is not the password. The whole thing is absurd and maddening and very, very funny. And that’s quite a trick on Murakami’s part.
“It’s got to be ‘dabchick,’” I insisted. “The little palm-sized dabchicks taste so bad you couldn’t get a dog to eat one.”
“Hey, wait a minute,” he said. “It doesn’t matter what you say: ‘dabchick’ is not the password. You can argue all you want, but you’ve got the wrong word.”
“But it fits all the clues – connected with water, fits in your hand, you can’t eat it, eight letters. It’s perfect.”
“There’s just one thing wrong.”
“’Dabchick’ is not the password.”
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