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A daily record of what I'm thinking about what I'm reading

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Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Does Endo recognize the immoral behavior of his narrator?

Shusaku Endo's story The 60-Year-Old Man, in his collection The Final Martyrs, is so weird and unsettling that the only way to approach is with confidence that the eponymous narrator isn't Endo himself, despite the autobiographical tone and, to a degree, contents of the story. That is, the man shares traits Endo has established throughout this story collection and other works: a writer, married but without great passion, more of a working partnership, born in the 1920s, a Japanese Catholic who writes a lot about Catholicism, martyrdom, tests of faith. This narrator is also focused on the gradual decay of his body; he's recently undergone a lung transplant (no idea if this fact-checks with Endo himself) and realizes that his face looks worn and aged - he feels his mortality. He's ensconced in the small office he uses for his writing, and is working on a Life of Jesus, or, more accurately, on a revision of a Life of Jesus he'd completed two decades back; he believes as an older man he now has much greater insight into Jesus' suffering. His topic at the moment is: Why did the followers so suddenly and completely abandon Jesus before the crucifixion? As he writes, he takes long breaks in a nearby coffee shop, where he enjoys watching and eavesdropping on a group of teenage girls who gather there after school - and that's where the story becomes weird and unsettling. He focuses on one girl in particularl (she reminds him of a preteen in Dostoyevsky's The Devils who is raped - make of that what you will), and he begins meeting her at a park on the weekends (they meet at the same park bench where he and his wife sometimes sit) and asks her questions that become increasingly personal. The girl says that sometimes her friends will pick up older men and "do things" for them in exchange for gifts and money. She says she'd really like to have a better music collection, and he probes her: what we she do for him in return? Not only is this narrator acting immorally (and sinfully, he might add), but he is also acting illegally: at least in the States, he could be picked up and arrested for such a creepy come-on. But the narrator has no direct or evident understanding of the impropriety, to put it mildly, of his behavior. He thinks he's just enjoying watching and talking to the younger generation, gaining inspiration and confidence to continue his write. Where is Endo in this?

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