Surrealism, fantasy, and powerfully restrained emotion are the distinctive features of six spectacularly original and gripping linked stories: the latest from the internationally renowned Japanese author of Sputnik Sweetheart (2001), etc.
They’re ingenious dramatizations of the emotional aftershocks of the massive 1995 Kobe earthquake. Each presents a vividly realized central figure: Komuro, the complacent salesman of “ufo in kushiro,” whose passive relationship with his even more passive wife is transformed, after she leaves him, into an awakened sensitivity to the dangers lurking in the everyday; Junko, a rootless young woman inexplicably drawn (in “landscape with flatiron”) toward a suicidal artist obsessed with building bonfires; and underachiever Yoshiya (in “all god’s children can dance”), whose baffled relationships with his abstracted mother, possibly nonexistent father, and God are set forth with crackling funereal wit. These are excellent pieces, but they’re surpassed by the bittersweet “super-frog saves Tokyo,” a Walter Mitty–like fantasy of empowerment enriched by delicious comic detail. Better still are “Thailand,” the tale of a middle-aged woman doctor’s realization, while vacationing in Bangkok, that the life she has neglected to live has formed long-dormant despairing energies into figurative (and, just possibly, literal) destructive forces; and “honey pie,” in which Junpei, a withdrawn fiction writer, reshapes the tale of his own frustrations and failings into a bedtime story for the young daughter of the woman he loves—and draws from his own creation a strength he never knew he possessed. This latter is perhaps the least self-consciously “literary” story about a writer’s life that anybody has ever written. It really is a wonderment to see how Murakami develops bizarre, “impossible” premises into emotionally and thematically satisfying explorations of genuine human longing, extremity, epiphany, and growth.
This writer goes from strength to strength. Magnificent.