Haruki Murakami’?s always been one of my favorite authors. Even his weaker novels and stories are still worth reading; I?ve never abandoned one of his works. Just the opposite, in fact ? I find them impossible to put down, devouring them in as few sittings as possible. His Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World is my favorite novel by anyone. When I was in high school, the teacher of an English class I was TAing for (actually, more of an independent study; I wrote a lot of my own projects, while I was a TA during class-time) let me do a unit on Murakami. I made a bundle of stories from The Elephant Vanishes, and had the students read them. I think they liked them, though the main thing I remember is a few thought the narrators, particularly of “?The Kangaroo Communiqué?” and “?On Seeing the 100% Perfect Girl One Beautiful April Morning?” were creepy and weird. I never thought that;? I tend to identify very strongly with most of his narrators. Perhaps I am creepy and weird too. I?’m fine with that.
Murakami?’s newest short story compilation is a collection of some of his oldest stories as well as his newest. Some of the earlier stories stand out –? they’?re not quite as polished, and they betray a feeling of an author finding their footing; sometimes the endings seem too pat. However, the last five stories (all written in 2005 and published the following year in Japan as a stand-alone book) are some of the best things Murakami has written, just as good as Hard-Boiled Wonderland.
The stories all fit the standard Murakami mold: ?The subtle magical realism, the digressions on ears, food and jazz, but not in a retread sort of way. He still has things to say, and this is still the best way for him to say them. He does play with the form a bit. After a few stories told in his standard first person; including a few where the narrator is a writer himself, you wonder whether or not the narrator is supposed to be Murakami himself and whether or not it?s based in true events. However, in the outstanding and moving ?”Chance Encounters”?, the narrator actually is stated to be Haruki Murakami, The Novelist. He states that it?s a true story ? though that whenever he says something really happens, no one believes him, since he?s known as a storyteller. Of course, I wonder whether or not it IS a true story. I hope it is, and I choose to believe it is.
Philip Gabriel (who translated half the collection, the other half going to long-time translator Jay Rubin) is improving in his writing style; he’?s still nowhere near as fluid and adept as the original English translator of Murakami?’s works, the brilliant Alfred Birnbaum (who translated Hard-Boiled Wonderland), though Gabriel?’s clunky translations no longer get in the way of enjoying the text (as they can in his earlier attempts, Sputnik Sweetheart and South of the Border, West of the Sun) ? there were several stories that read so smoothly I thought for sure they’?d been translated by Rubin.
Unfortunately, it seems that Murakami?’s books don?t get the fanfare they once did –? it seemed up until Kafka on the Shore, I was always aware as soon as a new Murakami book was coming out soon ? this time, however, I only discovered this one when I saw it on a friend?’s bookshelf, and in fact, when I went to order it, I discovered After Dark had been released as well, so I picked up both. I?’m not sure if I?’m just no longer looking in the right places, or if Vintage isn’?t putting the effort into advertising these they previously did, but it makes me sad that a new Murakami book no longer seems to be an event. It?s not that the books have gotten weaker –? they’?re still deserving of event status. But it does strike me as odd. Hopefully I’?m just somehow escaping the to-do, and everyone else knows about his new books and has already devoured them as quickly as I just did.