Sunday, May 14, 2017

Review: "Men Without Women" by Haruki Murakami

It’s almost too predictable for me to give a positive review to a new translated book from Japanese sensation Haruki Murakami, but his new book of short stories, Men Without Women is just as good as the hype that will be surrounding it once people, en masse, get their hands on a copy. It is a smaller work, dwarfed by 1Q84 and even his most recent novel Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and his Years of Pilgrimage. Not just because they are short stories (although most are over 30 pages), but theme wise you won’t see two moons in the sky, talking cats or people being skinned alive. Nope, these are quieter, more somber stories about people, all men, whose disconnect from love takes shape in various ways, some with possible metaphysical causes, although in Murakami’s world, nothing is concrete and the mystery itself is more rich and rewarding than it would be if it was solved. As always, certain motifs recur throughout, such as the powerful connection between music and emotions, music and memory, the almost mythical powers of animals such as cats and snakes and odd coincidences that may or may not be clues to a deeper, more profound cosmic truth. This collection has a lot more in common with his previous short story collection After the Quake: a set of stories that thematically tie together and should be read as a single unifying work, and with the exception of one story, which I will get to soon, all are fantastic in their own way, and since there are only seven here, I will try to talk about each one. “Drive My Car”, the opening story follows a semi-successful actor who is forced to rely on a driver after a minor scrap with the law. The driver, a homely yet intriguing female, drives him to and from rehearsal, where the man discusses his wife, who had a slew of affairs with other men until her death from uterine cancer. Infidelity plays a big part in most of these stories, with characters being both victims of and co-conspirators of cheating spouses. “Yesterday”, taken from The Beatles song, follows a young adult male whose friend refuses to study for his entrance exams and is soon separated from his lovely girlfriend. The friend is obsessive about other things in life, like his perfect imitation of a certain dialect, but on a date organized by said friend, the narrator and his friend’s girlfriend wax woefully about his dwindling prospects, leading to an odd time jump at the end. “An Independent Organ” is a haunting tale of an aging Lothario who falls victim to a love that will kill him. This story is doused in regret and sadness. “Scheherazade” the most fun, sees a man start a fair with a women whose story of youthful robbery and obsession is more fascinating than the lovemaking. “Kino”, the most menacing story, sees the title character open a bar after his marital collapse only to fall victim to mysterious magical forces. “Samsa in Love”, about Gregor Samsa transforming back into a beetle, is the worst one here. It’s derivative and unoriginal and has no place in this collection. The title story is a nice little quota that is more meditative than anything else and ends the story on a thoughtful note. If you’re a fan of his, there is no reason not to rush out and pick this up.

Rating: 5/5

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