In Pursuit of the Magic of the Ordinary ; Japanese Writer Haruki Murakami Explores the Odd Coincidences We So Often Overlook in Daily Life

By McAlpin, Heller | The Christian Science Monitor, August 29, 2006 | Go to article overview

In Pursuit of the Magic of the Ordinary ; Japanese Writer Haruki Murakami Explores the Odd Coincidences We So Often Overlook in Daily Life


McAlpin, Heller, The Christian Science Monitor


'Artists are those who can evade the verbose," Haruki Murakami wrote in his last mesmerizing novel, "Kafka on the Shore," a metaphysical mystery that sucks the reader into an engagingly logical yet strange dream world. Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman, Murakami's first collection of short stories in more than a decade, again demonstrates his fabulous talent for transporting readers and making "the world fade away" with a few short strokes of his pen.

As in his novels, Murakami's central fascination is with the essential strangeness and unfathomability of life.

"For some reason, things that grabbed me were always things I didn't understand," comments the narrator of "A 'Poor Aunt' Story," a writer who literally gets saddled with a poor aunt on his back after unsuccessfully trying to write a story about a poor aunt.

"Everything in the world has its reasons for doing what it does," a mysterious woman tells her lover before disappearing from his life in "The Kidney-Shaped Stone That Moves Every Day." In "Chance Traveler," a story about odd coincidences, the narrator concludes that perhaps coincidences are more ubiquitous than we think but often escape our notice, "like fireworks in the daytime."

In story after story, seemingly ordinary people relay instantly engrossing histories - often through a writer named Murakami - that turn on coincidence or surreal elements and blur the line between dreams and reality. Murakami's recurrent obsessions - jazz, surfing, cats, and western status symbols - all figure centrally.

Cultural references, from spaghetti and J. Crew to Dickens and Armani, are exclusively Western, as if Japanese culture had been obliterated in World War II.

Stinging alienation is depicted in tales of ho-hum marriages that fail to stave off loneliness or prevent its members from drifting into adultery.

In "Man-Eating Cats," which later worked its way into Murakami's novel "Sputnik Sweetheart," a couple who meet through work flee to an obscure Greek island after their marriages implode when their affair is revealed. After shedding his former Tokyo life - including all contact with his 4-year-old son - the narrator feels as if his identity is vanishing and imagines himself consumed by the ravenous cats he's read about in Athens' English-language newspaper.

Many of the stories are infused with a sense of grievous loss and nostalgia-tinged memory. …

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