Oh Mr. Murakami, we meet again. A couple of years ago, I read What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, Murakami’s memoir. It talks about how he channels his discipline towards writing and long-distance running. His running stats are unbelievable and he’s written over 36 books, so I’d say his discipline is serving him well. I enjoyed the book: it gave good advice, I like his stripped-down, few frills syntax, and it’s interesting to read about someone who is very talented. You can read my more in-depth review here: *here*
About a year ago, I decided to check out his fiction. I read Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage, a novel about a man who needs to face his past in order to move forward in the present. I don’t like it one bit. Mostly, I find the plot uninteresting. Also, I think that his descriptions and (frequent) similes often don’t add value; his comparisons are unhelpful, as they confuse more than they illuminate. You can read my more in-depth review here: *here*
You can see my hesitation in reading Men Without Women*, a collection of seven short stories about – you guessed it—men without women. On the one hand, the collection is fictional, so I’ll likely encounter the dreaded similes. On the other hand, a short story format might prevent plots from fizzling out and bring out more of the lean, sharpshooting prose that I love in his memoir.
In the end, I got some of both. He managed to squeeze in his trademark weird simile. For instance, in reference to a woman who sees sex as obligatory within her capacity as an escort, he says, “Basically, she seemed intent on keeping [the men] from growing too enthusiastic. Just as a driving instructor would not want his students to show too much enthusiasm about their driving” (Murakami, 133). First of all, if I’m a driving instructor and students are super fired up about driving, that makes my job a hell of a lot less boring. Secondly, because the comparison is weak, I’d rather him exclude it. At this point, I find it amusing, and I –probably too harshly—search out the poor similes as I read.
Despite my intentionally cynical hunt, each of the seven stories swept me. More often than not, they ended with a cliffhanger, but that didn’t irk me like it usually does. Murakami has a way of intriguing you enough so that you’re invested in the characters’ lives and then running a calm hand over your eyes so that you’re at peace when you don’t get to see exactly how their qualms play out. As a result, I enjoyed each story for what it was: a snippet of a larger life. Overall, I’m still reluctant to try more of his larger fiction, but Men Without Women receives 3 out of 5 camel humps.
*Murakami, Haruki. Men Without Women. New York: Alfred A Knopf, 2014. Print.