For a few years now, Haruki Murakami has been in the running for the Literature Nobel; meanwhile he collects fans all over the world, with his books about modern-day Japan, where stories of urban loneliness and alienation are played out by reclusive men and enigmatic women.
Three years after his novel Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage (a harrowing story about a boy who is suddenly dropped by his friends without any reason or explanation), Haruki Murakami’s has whetted the appetite of his devoted readers, by bridging the gap till his latest novel Killing Commendatore comes out in an English translation, with a collection of short stories, titled Men Without Women.
The seven melancholic stories are about lonely men, written in Murakami’s signature ruminative open-ended style. The men go through bizarre experiences that involve women in their lives.
In the first story, titled Drive My Car, an actor, Kafuku, unable to get over the death of his wife, happens to hire a female driver, when an incident of drunk driving gets him banned from driving. Over a period of time, he and the dour young woman driving his old yellow Saab convertible, get comfortable enough with each other to have a conversation. Her questions make Kafuku remember how he had endured his actress wife’s constant infidelity. He even befriends one of her lovers just be able to talk about her and read his expressions when he speaks of her. It is his strange way of keeping her memory alive in his mind and also, perhaps, to scratch at his own torment like the scab of a wound.
In Yesterday, Kitaru, who keeps failing his exams while his smart childhood sweetheart, Erika surges ahead, wants her to date his friend, the story’s narrator, because, as he puts it, ““I figure, if she’s gonna go out with other guys, it’s better if it’s you. ’Cause I know you. And you can gimme, like, updates and stuff.” There is something perverse and self-flagellating about his need to give her up, yet control her. The tone of the story is wry, and it is one of the few of Murakami’s stories that actually has some kind of closure.
Scheherazade is a weird tale about a woman who works as the housekeeper, and volunteers to be the lover, of a reclusive middle-aged man; like the character from the Arabian Nights, she tells him stories. One of them is about herself as a young schoolgirl so obsessed with a boy in her class that she breaks into his house to get to know him in an odd intimacy, since he pays no attention to her. The way she narrates that tragic-comic slice of her past, the reader has heart-in-mouth for fear that she will get caught and ruin her life.
If Scheherazade is about a teen’s obsession, An Independent Organ is about what happens to a cosmetic surgeon and confirmed bachelor always playing the field, when he falls deeply in love and cannot discard the woman like he did others in the past.
And so it goes, Murakami creating this dream-like universe of memories, of loves lost and pain hidden, in which he teases, tantalizes the reader with allusions to other writers, his pop-jazz references and his dissections of several hearts to reach the darkness within.
Men Without Women
By Haruki Murakami
(Translated by Phillip Gabriel & Ted Goossen)
Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf