Feels like: when your best friend tells you stories about someone she used to know.
Song pairing: “Nobody Else Will Be There” by The National
“It wasn’t easy,” Kafuku said, “It made me think things I would prefer to have ignored. Remember things I would rather have forgotten. But I was acting. That is my profession, after all.”
“Becoming somebody different,” Misaki said.
“And then going back to who you are.”
“That’s right,” Kafuku said. “Whether you want to or not. But the place you return to is always slightly different from the place you left. That’s the rule. It can never be exactly the same.”
I spent a large chunk of 2014 reading 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami. Every week I would go to Barnes and Noble and traverse the aisles for something special to read, and every single time I would pass by the hulking mass that is 1Q84, and I would think, “there’s something about that book, the aesthetics of it, and I have to read it, but I’m not ready.” I would hold it in my hands and pretend to dead lift it for comic relief, until I realized that no one was paying any attention to me, so who was the joke for? Anyway, the book was big. In between boyfriends and college courses and working nights at the diner, I didn’t think I had time to get sucked into a book that heavy.
And then the boyfriend faded away, and the semester ended, and I really needed to get caught up in something. So I went straight to Murakami and spent a long summer reading 1Q84 at the thai coffee shop by my mom’s house in southern California. I can vividly feel the thin gossamer pages as I turn them, the feeling of the table grating in between my fingernails, the holes casting checkered shadows over my lap. I can taste the thai iced coffee and the boba beads and the cold compress of the icy plastic cups between my fingers. I loved that summer, that time in my life, getting consumed by Murakami’s upside down world. That book was remarkable, and Murakami is remarkable.
SO, all that to say when I saw he had an upcoming short story collection releasing this year, I was beyond stoked. And to hear that musical title, Men without Women, I knew it was going to be as gripping, solemn, and devastating as his earlier work.
The short stories in this collection are equal parts hopeful and startling in their sincerity. Sincere is the best word I can use to describe how this collection feels. Real, affirming, and sincere. Each short story follows a lonesome man, broken to a certain extent, or isolated physically and emotionally. Kafuku in Drive My Car has such beautiful revelations about what it means to truly love a person, but know innately that you can’t ever know the whole of them, only the parts that can be shared in a life. Dr. Tokai in An Independent Organ finds real and maddening love in a woman who leaves him for another, so he starves himself to death like in a book he read about the Holocaust.
Kino, which to me is the best and saddest of stories, tells of a divorced man opening up a bar. He lives a quiet, peaceful life until he make the decision to sleep with a stranger, a woman whose boyfriend is a vindictive sociopath who burns her with cigarettes. He is warned by a wary patron who watches over Kino to leave the bar, go away for a while, abandon his life and travel alone, tell no one where he is. When he obeys those instructions, he finally gives himself enough space to feel the crushing isolation of his divorce, the betrayal of his wife, the impenetrable sadness of being so alone, and he cries in the hotel room. Samsa In Love is a backwards Kafka’s Metamorphosis. Men Without Women, the title story, is the most meandering, and also the story most lacking in feeling. It reads as authentic, but just lackluster. I attribute that to the translation, actually. A man receives a phone call from a stranger who claims to be his ex-girlfriend’s husband, and he’s calling her former lover to let him know that she has died. The man hangs up the phone perplexed, wondering why the husband of his long-ago sweetheart called to tell him of her passing. As he contemplates the reasons, his mind wanders through the ramifications of loving someone, and what the loss of that love can become for a man who is without a woman.
I loved this collection of stories, but mostly for the sake of the writing. Reading with Murakami is as simple and easy as sighing, it just flows. I am always mesmerized by how complex he makes his characters without ever having to flesh them out in their entirety. I know nothing about the narratting character Habara in Scheherazade aside from his need for a nurse to attend on him, but I know everything about him at the same time. It takes so little for Murakami to say so much.
Read this, in bursts or all at once, but read it to know what beautiful writing can truly attain when a master craftsman does it well. Read it like you would observe a painting in a gallery. The whole is the sum of so many intricate, eloquent parts.
And If you haven’t read 1Q84, I highly recommend it.
Memorable quotes, which are always too many to transcribe when reading Murakami:
⛵️”It feels like somehow our hearts have become intertwined. Like when she feels something, my heart moves in tandem. Like we’re two boats tied together with rope. Even if you want to cut the rope, there’s no knife strong enough to do it.”⛵️
👚”It struck him that the way women put on their clothes could be even more interesting than the way they took them off.”👖
🌌”I think about this man. And I imagine what it means to be the loneliest man on earth. I already know what it is to be the second loneliest man on earth. But I still don’t know what it is to be the loneliest. A deep gulf separates the second from the first loneliest on earth. Most likely. Deep, and wide, too. The bottom is heaped high with corpses of birds who have tried, and failed, to traverse it. Suddenly one day you become Men Without Women…
Only Men Without Women can comprehend how painful, how heartbreaking, it is to become one. You lose that wonderful west wind. Fourteen is stolen away from you forever. (A billion years should count as forever.) The far-off, weary lament of sailors. The bottom of the sea, with ammonites and coelacanths. Calling someone’s house past one a.m. Getting a call after one a.m. from a stranger. Waiting for someone you don’t know somewhere between knowledge and ignorance. Tears falling on the dry road as you check the pressure of your tires.”🌌