This is almost a mirror image of Open Secrets in terms of theme but the content and style are so different. In Open Secrets the really alone people were almost all women, in this one they are all men – so the themes of love and loss are major elements. It’s not Murakami’s best imo, but it’s good enough, I think perhaps by the time I read Men Without Women I was tired of people alone.
Men Without Women
by Haruki Murakami
2017 / 240 pages
Rating: 7.5 / short stories
I chose to read this AFTER Open Secrets because I thought surely I would get mixed up with two volumes of short stories and I don’t know now. They are really different.
All of Murakami’s stories take place in the urban and contemporary world while Munro’s take place at various times between 1900 and the 1960s. And Murakami is known for including cats and jazz (the Beatles?) and some fantasy in his works – it’s here. Munro is very North American to the point of regional while Murakami is distinctly placed in a Japan with a lot of American influence. The volumes are definitely different.
This book felt more musical to me than Murakami’s priors. It felt like he was trying to write a story with music like other writers might try to write it like a painting. (I don’t think I can explain that.)
1. Drive My Car – (a Beatles tune) This is the best of the lot, in my opinion. There is a mysterious woman here, but the protagonist is not in love with her. Rather she enables him to go back through his memories and realize how he came to be alone.
2. Yesterday – (like another Beatles song) A young man takes the girlfriend of his buddy on a date at the buddy’s request. The buddy is very odd – learns another dialect to be different, etc.
“If you don’t know what you’re looking for, it’s not easy to look for it,”
3. An Independent Organ – Although he’s played around a lot with married women, this time an older man has fallen in love. More humorous than the others.
4. Scheherazade – A middle-aged woman tells her housekeeping client about her life as a young women when she stalked a young man to the point of breaking into his house and stealing various small articles belonging to him. (I think Murakami wrote a similar situation in a prior story – a man is confined to his home and his housekeeper does a lot of things for him.)
5. Kino – a man leaves his wife and opens a jazz bar which, after awhile, attracts strange customers including a woman with cigarette burns. The most musical perhaps.
6. Samsa in Love – a reversal of Kafka’s The Metamorphosis. (Kind of stupid, imo.)
7. Men Without Women – A man gets a strange phone call about a woman’s being dead – suicide. He figures it was an old girlfriend of his and it was the husband who rang. This has happened before – the man goes into a mental fantasy but he wants it to be “essence” or something.
Maybe if I read this a second time it would be more meaningful – probably so – but I’m really not interested at this point.