Wednesday, September 24, 2008

On "Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman" by Haruki Murakami *****

I wasn't that impressed by Murakami's previous collection, After the Quake, and while I remember enjoying The Elephant Vanishes, I don't recall finding any particular story especially amazing. There, it was more a matter of the collection's overall weirdness and wackiness, something unique Murakami's vision, which was largely new to me at the time (though I'd read a couple of his novels previously). This latest story collection seems more like the work of a master, though some of the stories, in the Japanese, date back to before The Elephant Vanishes. Why Murakami would have left out a story as magnificent as "New York Mining Disaster" I'm not sure. That story, my favorite in the collection and surely one of the best stories I've ever read, tells the tale of a young man who for one difficult year loses a lot of his friends to death. But it's really about death itself and about the way we commune with the dead, and the way in which death makes little sense to those of us who are still alive. Other highlights of the collection include four of the last five stories, the last five apparently being Murakami's most recent output. Murakami claims these are weird tales, though he admits that just about any of his stories would fit that claim; I found them (at least four of them) to be, in fact, refreshingly restrained--weird, but more subtly so. One is about chance happenings; another, "Hanalei Bay," is a story of grief that becomes a rather traditional story of another type--but, for me, rather unexpectedly; one is a story of love with the "weird" story embedded in its center. I won't say that every story in the collection spoke to me--some just seem strange with not much more too them--but on the whole, this is a fantastic new set of stories, one I'm glad to have added to my personal library.

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