“Our relationship isn’t exactly…normal”: as ever, a glimpse into the strange worlds people invent by the always inventive Murakami (Absolutely on Music: Conversations, 2016, etc.).
If you are one of Murakami’s male characters, you do what you can to be different: sure, you sleep around and drink a lot of whiskey, but you also read books and listen to music, especially his beloved Beatles, who provide two of the seven chapter titles here. If the title story pays homage to Hemingway, there’s nothing much Hemingway-esque about any of the players except perhaps a world-weary resignation to the way things are, as well as a few odd affectations that may not mean much to non-Japanese readers; in the story “Yesterday,” for instance, one character speaks a dialect from a region that isn’t his own. “Why does somebody who was born and raised in Tokyo go to the trouble of learning the Kansai dialect and speak it all the time?” Why indeed? If you are a female Murakami character, you are likely to be disaffected and a little lonely, though no more passive than any of the males: things happen to Murakami’s people more than they make things happen. Nowhere is this more true than in the compellingly odd tale “Samsa in Love,” which opens, with Kafkaesque matter-of-factness, with the words “He woke to discover that he had undergone a metamorphosis and become Gregor Samsa.” Aside from a certain priapism, things aren’t all that much different in his life, though a woman he meets schools him in an important truth: “Maybe working on the little things as dutifully and honestly as we can is how we stay sane when the world is falling apart.” Considering the state of the world, that’s a valuable takeaway and well worth the price of admission.
Not groundbreaking but certainly vintage Murakami: a little arch, a little tired, but always elegant.