Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman: 24 Stories by Haruki Murakami, translated by Jay Rubin and Philip Gabriel
Another confession: While recently listening to Rupert Degas narrate parts of Hari Kunzru’s Gods without Men, I got such a nostalgic pang to hear Degas read Haruki Murakami (after experiencing A Wild Sheep Chase, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, and select stories from The Elephant Vanishes thus far in Degas’ voice, I’ve been duly conditioned, in spite of his inexcusable mispronunciation of many Japanese words and names!), that I downloaded the last Murakami title I had left unread, only to realize that Blind Willow is narrated by two others. I am fairly certain that this is the only Murakami book that Patrick Lawlor and Ellen Archer have narrated thus far; overall both read their respective stories well enough (the vast majority of the stories are read by Lawlor), although both should definitely have requested a pronunciation lesson – really, how hard could that be??!! Ack, don’t get me started!
While not always certain of narrative outcome – inexplicable happenings, non-sequitur action, vanishing characters – I ironically find such comfort in reading (or listening) to Murakami’s novels and short stories. If some of these 24 stories seem familiar, you might have encountered them in the usual highbrow publications like Granta, Harper’s, The New Yorker. And if you’ve read other Murakami novels, you might actually recognize the story “Firefly” from Norwegian Wood and “Man-Eating Cats” from Sputnik Sweetheart, as Murakami explains in an introduction specifically for this edition in English. Murakami also shares numerous revealing comments about his writing process, starting with “… I find writing novels a challenge, writing short stories a joy.”
As Murakami declares, “… not every short story is a masterpiece,” some here are admittedly more memorable than others. All, however, are unmistakably Murakami, because each captures something utterly unexpected: a friend who likes to ride out typhoons in a zoo, covered in a Vietnam-era army surplus poncho with two beers in his pockets (“New York Mining Disaster”), a man who lives without mirrors in his home because a mirror he once saw actually never existed (“The Mirror”), a palm-sized dabchick (a kind of water bird – I had to look it up) with a toothache thinking about death (“Dabchick”), a poor aunt who appears on a man’s back in the middle of August (“A ‘Poor Aunt’ Story”), a man who decides to eat only spaghetti during the year 1971 (“The Year of Spaghetti”), a disappearing lover who turns out to be a tightrope walker between tall buildings (“The Kidney Shaped Stone”), and obviously many more.
If I had to choose a favorite or two, I’d say “Halalei Bay” about a woman who loses her teenage surfer son because of a shark attack and “A Shinagawa Monkey” about a woman who suddenly cannot remember her own name. But then again, the story I’m pondering over most repeatedly is “Where I’m Likely to Find It,” about an investigator trying to figure out what happened to a man who vanished between two floors in his apartment building.
That ever-pondering feeling is not unlike the reaction I have to every Murakami title (with the exception of his uncharacteristically straight-forward What I Talk About When I Talk About Running: A Memoir). It’s a rather addictive reaction, truth be told … his narratives never quite leave you alone, and you just want to definitively know what happened. It’s literal possession …
Published: 2006 (United States)