Sometimes a year feels fast, and sometimes a year feels slow. Sometimes a year feels like both! That’s been my year with Murakami. It feels like he’s always been a favorite author of mine, but when I look back, I hadn’t read a word of his until early this year. Now I average a Murakami book every couple of months.
This particular book is different than the previous works I’ve read simply because it’s not a novel. It’s a collection of seven stories about, you guessed it, men without women. Or, maybe, men with too many women. Or too many thoughts about women. Or too many thoughts. Or not enough (“As with most people who are well raised, well educated, and financially secure, [he] only thought of himself.”). It’s hard to know. After I read these books I’m confused and moody in a good way.
The plots vary in the stories, but there are common threads. The protagonists are generally quiet Japanese men doing (reluctantly) well in their jobs and with getting dates, but mostly poorly in maintaining meaningful relationships. They like jazz and drink and good food. And brooding. The thrust of things is to contemplate the mystery and power of male/female relationships.
Two stories stood out to me. The first involved an aging actor trying to make sense of how much you can truly know someone, even a spouse of decades. How much do people keep of themselves in a relationship, and how much should they? My favorite by far centered around a lonely bar owner unable to make sense of his own life, the lives of his customers, or the supernatural events that follow him around. It’s a weird, tense, pretty story full of unexpected things. It felt the most like Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki, my favorite of the author’s books (so far).
Some favorite quotes:
“Being alive is a killer, if you think about it.”
“There were times he thought it would have been far better to never have known. Yet he continued to return to his core principle: that, in every situation, knowledge was better than ignorance. However agonizing, it was necessary to confront the facts. Only through knowing could a person become strong.”
“In the end maybe that’s the challenge: to look inside your own heart as perceptively and seriously as you can, and to make peace with what you find there. If we hope to truly see another person, we have to start by looking within ourselves.”
“Don’t look away, look right at it. This is what your heart looks like.”
“Maybe working on the little things as dutifully and honestly as we can is how we stay sane when the world is falling apart.”