Sunday, March 04, 2018

Book-A-Day 2018 #63: Men Without Women by Haruki Murakami

There are seven stories here. One is titled "Men Without Women," but it's not just the title story. Murakami is writing about men who have lost women, or are just separated from them. Men who are alone, each in their own way.

All Men Without Women. (Get it?)

This is Murakami in New Yorker story mode, rather than quirky-fantasy mode -- in fact, three of the translations here originally appeared in The New Yorker. There are no mysterious cats, no visits to or from alternate dimensions, no magical girls, no ominous dark holes in the ground.

There is more than a little jazz music, played on old-fashioned LPs, to show us that this is still Murakami, after all. But fans of early Murakami should know that this is the modern Murakami of Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki rather than the Wild Sheep Chase Murakami.

I also have the vague sense that these seven stories almost have the same main character -- several of them have narrators who seem to be just not-Murakami, but several have specific details to make them more distinct. (And it's possibly someone could assemble those details into a single consistent character, though "Samsa" would be tricky to shoehorn in.) I suspect this is just Murakami doing several stories in a common style or idiom rather than something purposeful: these aren't linked stories in a normal sense, just seven stories about lonely men and the women they don't have.

Murakami, as translated from the Japanese here by Philip Gabriel and Ted Goossen, has exquisite, precise prose and a laser-sharp eye on the emotional foibles of a certain kind of very human man. And he's never been known as a writer of plot, so no one will be surprised to find out there isn't a whole lot of plot in any of these stories.

I found this book slightly disappointing: I miss the wild early Murakami. But are any of us as wild as we were thirty years ago? It's a fine collection of literary stories, well-translated and presented in a classy package.

(Parenthetically, Murakami got the title from Hemingway, but "Men Without Women" will always remind me of the greatest American rock 'n' roll record that hardly anyone knows, from Little Steven and the Disciples of Soul. So here's the title song.)

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