Unrequited or lost love, unrealized dreams and bizarre experiences that unfold into deeper mysteries, in 25 stories drawn from the prominent Japanese writer’s entire career.
A handful seem too thinly developed to make an impression: memories of high school and youth heightened by a pop song’s imagery (“The 1963/1982 Girl from Ipanema”); a satire on rampant commercialism and consumer gullibility (“The Rise and Fall of Sharpie Cakes”); an obsessive daily routine through which a lonely bachelor avoids “getting caught up in other people’s messes” (“The Year of Spaghetti”). But more often than not, Murakami’s matchless gift for making the unconventional and even the surreal inviting and gratifying creates hard little narrative gems. In the beautiful title story, a young man’s paternalistic relationship with his ingenuous cousin (who has sustained permanent hearing loss) becomes the avenue to a more intense awareness of both others’ sufferings and his own alienated state. A nightwatchman sees his doppelgänger in “The Mirror” (which isn’t there, as he very well knows), and understands that he has somehow failed or antagonized his essential self. The vacationing narrator of “Hunting Knife” experiences several odd encounters at a tourist hotel, climaxing in a conversation with a wheelchair-bound young man whose possession of the title object amounts to a silent, secret rebellion against his fate. Successive images of loss or regret or alienation are dramatized in brisk sentences that decline to offer rational explanations, yet tease us with the manifold implications of things left unsaid. Murakami’s well-known love of American jazz and nostalgic fascination with the 1960s sound recurring themes, and he’s often present, under his own name or as “the writer.” These techniques work to perfection in a virtuosic exploration of the phenomenon of coincidence (“Chance Traveler”) and a searching Kafkaesque parable about disappearance, loss and coping (“Where I’m Likely to Find It”).
A superlative display of a great writer’s wares. Absolutely essential.