These seven stories are filled with Murakami staples.
Over his 40 years as a novelist and storyteller, Haruki Murakami has put out some of the most raved-about work in the literary world. His writing has been translated into dozens of languages from its original Japanese, and he’s sold countless copies all over the planet. Between his nearly effortless use of magical realism, his love of baseball and jazz music and his ability to write some of the most believable and relatable characters in literature, his work offers an incredible window into modern Japan, while at the same time showing readers how interconnected humans are despite cultural differences. His new collection of stories, Men Without Women, continues with nearly every thread he’s touched on during his career, much to any fan’s delight. While the title may be a bit on the nose, there’s nothing about this story collection that will feel cliché—despite how easily the title can create a preconceived notion about the text itself.
These seven stories are filled with Murakami staples. Vanishing, mysterious women. Cats and the Beatles. Cigarette smoke in dark barrooms. All of them, of course, offer their own distinct vibe, making them feel more like a series of mini-novels held together by their thematic tether: men who are existing alone, and who are coping with their loneliness through seeking out other women or men. For example, an actor recalling the story of his late wife’s infidelity and death in a conversation with his new driver—who just so happens to be a woman. Ultimately, however, these stories revel in the basic human need for contact with the opposite sex, whether physical or mental. They are beautiful and heartbreaking and told in Murakami’s terse but oddly lovely prose.
The enjoyment level of each story will hinge on the connections that readers can make with the text. As objective as we would like to be, these stories are genuine enough that, in one way or the other, everyone’s experiences something. That element is both the book’s success and its obstacle. Linking nostalgia to a piece of literature can distort the experience based on each reader’s particular link to each story. For better or worse, it’s almost impossible not to determine a level of enjoyment without a bias toward experience. Instead of seeing a full body of work, there are snippets. But, this conundrum is a testament to Murakami’s talent regardless of one person’s preferences.
Men Without Women is a strong collection that proves once again that Murakami is as masterful with short form storytelling as he is with his novels. It may feel like a bit of a placeholder between novels, sure, but, if you’re eager for more Murakami before that next one is released, this will likely hold you over until then, even if these short stories do more to whet the appetite for that next novel than to completely satisfy it.