Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman2, 3 *
Birthday Girl1, 10 19
New York Mining Disaster3, 7 33 *
Airplane: Or, How He Talked to Himself as If Reciting Poetry1 45 *
The Mirror2 55 *
A Folklore for My Generation: A Pre-History of Late-Stage Capitalism2 61 *
Hunting Knife3 81 *
A Perfect Day for Kangaroos3 95 *
Dabchick6, 8 101
Man-Eating Cats1, 9 109 *
A “Poor Aunt” Story4, 7, 11 125
Nausea 1979 2 143
The Seventh Man5, 12 155 *
The Year of Spaghetti4 169 *
Tony Takitani2, 13 175 *
The Rise and Fall of Sharpie Cakes6 193
The Ice Man4, 14 199 *
Crabs3, 15 209 *
Firefly2, 16 215 *
Chance Traveler3 235 *
Hanalei Bay17 253 *
Where I’m Likely to Find It18 273 *
The Kidney-Shaped Stone That Moves Every Day1, 19 291 *
A Shinagawa Monkey6 309 *
* = Deals with Murakami’s loneliness/alienation theme20
1One of the collection’s best
5At this point I’ve read about 10 stories about alienated/isolated narrators. It’s getting a bit old.
6WTF? Murakami should have taken a page from Dave Eggers’s book (literally) and kept this one to himself. a
7Written in 1979, first published decades later
8If I had a better sense of Murakami’s psyche, I might guess this is some kind of bad joke.
9Became Sputnik Sweetheartb
10This one is risky, as the setup is utterly banal, and the story wagers everything on its final payoff. A young waitress has to work on her birthday. She’s asked to deliver dinner to the wealthy, eccentric owner of the restaurant. She gets there and he offers her one wish. In the wrong hands, this story could be 100% run-of-the-mill, but Murakami manages to end it in such a way that it’s deep and ponderous.
11This one is difficult to dislike because it’s based on a pretty good idea, but hate I must. Here’s the premise: the narrator (probably Murakami) one day has a sudden desire to write a story about a “poor aunt.”
Why a poor aunt, of all things, should have grabbed my heart on a Sunday afternoon like this, I have no idea. There was no poor aunt to be seen in the vicinity, nothing to make me imagine her existence. She came to me, nonetheless, and then she was gone. If only for some hundredth part of a second, she had been in my heart. And when she moved on, she left a strange, human-sized emptiness in her place.”
The narrator wants to write about the poor aunt, but he doesn’t know what to say. The next day, he finds that a poor aunt is affixed to his back, which begins to create social problems for him. He can’t get rid of her, so he just resigns himself to living with her until one day she disappears.
On one level, the concept is a clever metafiction for describing the feeling of what it’s like to be grabbed by an idea for a short story, and how the writer must deal with it. But the story gets too bogged down in clunky language, over-description, and whimsy to be compelling. As it’s an earlier work that’s sat in the vault since 1979, perhaps Murakami should have cleaned it up before publishing it.
12Murakami is a creator of brilliant metaphors, and when he’s on his game he treads a line between giving us too much info to unpack said metaphors, and giving us too little for them to be meaningful. Some of his poorer books and stories are afflicted by a terrible tendency to over-explain the metaphors, to the point that you just want to gash out whole paragraphs with a big red pen. They become dull exercises, like a book report penned by an angst-ridden teen during his lunch period, and the result is that the metaphor, potentially brilliant, loses all vitality, congealing into a hardened lump of clay. This is one of those stories.
13Made into a major motion picture. Also worth your time.
14Proves there’s nothing written by Murakami that The New Yorker won’t publish. Also demonstrates that Murakami should not make stories out of his wife’s dreams.
15“Crabs” is the 18th story in this collection. It is (roughly) the 18th story to deal with the alienation of a lonely, isolated narrator. Had “Crabs” been, say, the first or even the fifth story in the collection, I might have been more favorably disposed to it. But seeing as I have just gotten through 208 pages of stories demonstrating loneliness and alienation, I was really hoping Murakami would change things up a bit. Alas.
16As you might be aware, “Firefly” eventually became Norweigan Wood. Unlike “Man-Eating Cats” (which became Sputnik Sweetheart), “Firefly” is almost exactly the same as what appears in Norweigan Wood. Despite the fact that I’ve already read Norweigan Wood, I found “Firefly” to be much fresher and more interesting than most of the stories in this collection.
17By this point I’m getting pretty tired of the Murakami forumula of isolated, alienated characters dealing with thier isolation and alienation. As mentioned in footnote 20, this isn’t a problem in the novels because they deal with a good deal more (and also, I tend not to read 20 of them in a row), but at this point it’s starting to become a real liability in this collection. c
19An excellent story. This one proves that even after twenty-some stories on the isolation/alienation theme, I can still appreciate the same old same old if it’s done well. What separates this one from the also-rans? Simple: I can’t tell you what the kidney-shaped stone means. It’s the quintessential Murakami metaphor, an object that, throughout the story, becomes endowed with multiple meanings. As the story progresses, the stone becomes a rich, opaque spot, an undefinable quantity that I can’t help speculating about, but can’t possibly penetrate. By the end of the story, several interstecting threads have passed through the stone, and the ending (which includes the stone) ties everything together without explaining anything. I wish more stories in this collection were like this one.
20Insofar as Murakami’s oeuvre has a defining theme or direction, this would be it. I personally believe that the majority of his narrators are depressed to various degrees (this is what I attribute his overwhelming popularity in Japan and the USA to), and his novels and stories generally deal with the narrator’s long path toward understanding his condition. This sounds dreadfully boring and repetitive, but it isn’t. The best of the novels bring in all sorts of other themes (love, Japanese nationalism, writing, sex, maturation, delayed adolescence), and they do so with astonishingly inventive metaphors. The books (and even some stories) are also extremely interpretable, usually holding up to several distinct readings. (Some of the novels, like The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, are pretty much impossible to unravel.) But for all that is in Murakami’s works, it’s quite definite that the loneliness/alienation is the common strand, the one thing found most often and most overwhelmingly.
aIt can’t be a coincidence that “Dabchick” appeared in McSweeney’s quarterly journal. I can’t imagine any other journal that would publish anything so insipid.
bI think both are quite worth reading. This story is sufficiently different from SS to make it stand, even for those who have already enjoyed the novel.
cI should mention here that a collection with nothing but isolation/alientation stories isn’t intrinsically bad. It’s possible that the author of such a collection could make each one meaningful and different. Unfortunately, though, that is not what is happening here. Many of these stories aren’t very deeply felt. The characters are flat, and even though their situations and exploits change, they feel the same. Stories in a collection should not blur together into the same shade of gray.
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