MEN WITHOUT WOMEN
By Haruki Murakami
280 pp. Knopf
In my eighth year of life I met Maggie — a new addition to my class who had red curly hair, spoke with an accent I was informed later (after some inquiry on my part) was Italian, and who stood at a height superior to mine. She entranced me, but I held still and maintained myself in good operational order. After our first play date (a surprise request from Maggie via her parents) Maggie stayed noticeably close to me in school despite her likability and growing popularity and would every day ask to sample a bit of my lunch. If I offered to share the entire meal with her, she would decline amidst her chuckles and say, “a sample is better than a meal. I just want to know what you’re tasting”. I loved Maggie, in the confusing way a boy my age could love a girl, and I have remembered her always.
Men Without Women by Haruki Murakami is a congenial juxtaposition of seven short stories connected by a central theme which is also the title of the work. However, to call the inclusions “short stories” is a bit of a misnomer since each is significantly shorter than one would expect a short story to be, particularly from an author who has created such tomes as The Wind-up Bird Chronicle (Vintage $21.95, Hardcover). Instead, the reader should regard the inclusions as seven literary vignettes carefully crafted and joined to form a necklace of impressions the reader cannot — nor would not — want to relieve themselves of. Emotions evoked are poignant in their subtlety and introduce to the reader who may never have pondered the question of serial loneliness to do so now. Of course, as is characteristic with Murakami, a few stories have in their architecture a connection to the creepy. Or, more specifically, eerie ideas and sensations lurking just beneath the subtext that have little or nothing to do with the main theme but are familiar fingerprints of the author. In short, you never know what you are going to get and that is the mastery Murakami brings to his work.
In the end I dare not ask why Murakami chose to create this work. And I can hear my dear Maggie telling my eight-year-old self still residing in me, “That doesn’t matter. Did you enjoy the samples?” The answer to this question, of course, would be a robust “yes” followed by some pronouncement that the samples were indeed better than most meals I’ve received from other authors. However, be that as it may, Men Without Women leaves the reader wanting a full course from its creator. Literary vignettes insufficiently satisfy the mature palate. I wonder how Maggie would respond to that?