Author Archives: Brendan Justice

Fact vs Fiction 1Q84

Haruki Murakami’s 1Q84 is a novel that at first glance seems to not concern itself with whether its events are fact or fiction; and to be fair, the novel is written with magical fantasy elements included. But to lump 1Q84 into “fiction” or “nonfiction” would do it a disservice. It stands wholly on it’s own, and in my mind, a uniquely defies genre in its fantasy. Spoilers ahead!

Murakami saves the magic of the novel for a surprise twist that occurs at exactly the halfway point through this 800+ page novel. The first half of the book succeeds massively in realistic descriptions of the characters, their backgrounds, and their physical surroundings. For the first 400 pages, for the most part Murakami has written realistic fiction. It’s this dedication to real world Tokyo that lets the magic feel magical. In 1Q84 it is the fact that makes the fiction.

Maybe this is obvious, and the case for all types of magical realist literature. But personally, the introduction of magic into 1Q84 blew my fucking mind. Murakami does so well in writing his realistic fiction that when the magical realism kicks in, it doesn’t really feel like magic. You join the characters in feeling like reality itself has taken a total shift. In the novel the main characters find out that the world they live in, and the world everyone lives in, is actually being written by a select few powerful storytellers, who determine the thoughts motivations and actions of all the people around them. The most shocking part lies in the fact the characters we follow, that is, the characters the novel is focalized around, are not the storytellers. They are side characters, taking action based on the wills of these powerful other people, and feeling their motivations change as the story goes on. These characters are aware of their own transformations, and for the reader to watch a character they have grown close to over hundreds of pages suddenly start to lose their individuality to some other character in the story is pretty disconcerting. More than disconcerting- we’ve followed a thought pattern for chapters on chapters that all of a sudden is aware it’s changing due to the influence of another character in the story.

The relationship between fact and fiction in 1Q84 is symbiotic. The facts enhance the fiction, and the fiction enhances the facts. By grounding us in a very very real world, listing specific subway stations in Tokyo, giving the characters very real internal monologues with hopes and dreams and anxieties, and by avoiding tropes of all sorts, Murakami successfully convinces us this reality exists. Of course it does- it looks just like our own, doesn’t it? In this way 1Q84’s form reflects its content. The characters also believe their world to be real and free of magic, until they are proven wrong. The magic also makes the characters feel more factual, in that they react to the world changing around them in realistic and believable ways. By all measures, this is a real world that has suddenly been flipped upside down, on the reader and the main characters.

Fact or Fiction: Hannibal Burress and Stand Up Comedy

Comedy and factual honesty have always had a love-hate relationship. On one hand, brutal honesty towards people or events in your life can lead to hilarious stand up routines, yet on the other hand, oftentimes a 100% factually honest retelling of an event will not be the funniest. In Hannibal Burress’ “Hannibal Takes Edinburgh”, a camera man follows Burress around Edinburgh’s Fringe Festival, as he attempts (and succeeds) in doing 27 stand-up comedy shows in 27 days. Although the documentary functions well to document Burress’ mental stamina and fortitude (a show every day for a month is a challenge even for comedy legends, and by the end of the event Burress’ mental energy is clearly spent), it works just as well to showcase Burress’ comedy chops. Burress’ comedy routines are frequently stories from his life, and the contrast between following Burress through his trip to Scotland and watching him perform on stage had me asking questions about just how “true” his comedy routines are. One of his jokes goes like this:


Everyone in security, they get weirder and weirder man. When I fly out of New York, I hand em my ID and my boarding pass, they say “what’s your name, where’re you going?” C’mon dude, yall can do better than that. Sometimes I say a fake name just to see what they’ll do. I hand him my ID he says “what’s your name?”, I said “Michael”, he said “nope”, I said “Hannibal”, he said “enjoy your trip”. I guess America is all about second chances!


Just how honest is this? Is this joke a piece of fiction or nonfiction? It’s hard to say. We can almost guarantee that a similar process to the one Burress has described takes place at airport security lines. That much is not a large stretch of the imagination. But did this event actually take place? It’s kind of hard to picture a man on a security line giving an actual wrong name compared to the one on his ID, and walking away after getting it right on the second try. But who knows if it actually happened? I guess no one besides Burress and the security officer. I would think that what brings the humor to the joke is inherent in the questionable factuality of the joke itself. All the underlying information to the joke is true. Very true, and widely known information held by the public as “the case”. Yes, security is a hassle, and of course they could be trying harder. They only ask for a name! The set-up of the joke is undoubtedly non-fiction.

Or is it? How many of us know for certain that this IS the process when you step up to a security line? Is it just that a “fed-up” attitude towards the efforts of airport security is a common one? Could it be that Burress just emotionally checks in with the listener, so that the humor of the joke can rest on a bed that’s emotionally true, but factually shaky? I know I honestly wouldn’t be able to list the steps that security takes when they check a boarding pass and ID, even though I fly probably once a year on average. I can definitely say it’s a process I don’t enjoy, and in this, Burress taps into the emotional truth of the situation.

In my mind, the set-up of the joke can be labeled as “emotionally non-fiction” and “factually plausible”. But now for the joke itself- is there a chance Hannibal actually told the officer a wrong name, corrected himself, and walked away scot-free? It’s not so out of the ordinary, one might think, but at the same time I’m curious just how likely that is to happen. Does it matter if it didn’t happen? Obviously according to the humor of the situation, it’s funny whether it actually took place or not. “I guess America is a place of second chances!”

It’s unlikely that we will ever know for certain whether any given stand up routine is factually honest or not. What seems to matter more is whether it could be, and whether it emotionally strikes a chord with the viewer.