Two dozen haunting shorts |

Two dozen haunting shorts

Alex Miller
Special to the Daily"Blind Woman, Sleeping Woman," by Haruki Murakami

The Japanese writer Haruki Murakami is best-known for longer works like “The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle” and “Kafka on the Shore,” but like some of the best novelists, his short stories sometimes show his strengths best.Think of the 24 stories in the collection “Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman” more as “experiences” than stories. Admirers of tight, short fiction that comes with a discernible plot and resolution may wish to avoid Murakami’s work. But for those with a higher tolerance for uncertainty and a love of beautiful prose and perplexing bits of life’s oddities, “Blind Willow …” is hard to put down.Murakami fans will enjoy the introduction by the author, where he speaks candidly of his love for short fiction, which he says he writes in between novels – never mixing the two in his routine. Nothing the author says can prepare one, however, for the strange, haunting imagery and spare emotional freight he describes in his stories. These short stories almost always seem to contain small mysteries of one kind or another: a man who disappears between floors in an apartment building, a woman who starts to forget her own name, a waitress who is granted a secret wish, a sad man pondering the loneliness he sees inherent in the making of spaghetti. Some of the mysteries are more internal, like the mother whose son is killed by a shark while surfing in Hawaii, and who finds herself drawn, year after year, to vacation there on the beach. While his eye roves to a variety of people in different situations, thematically Murakami sticks to a sort of existential puzzlement. His characters are often – if not always – stuck in situations they seem to have little or no control over, and most of their conflict arises from trying to figure out what the hell to do about it. More often than not, there’s no way out, but Murakami stops short of assessing it all as hopeless. In fact, even his bleakest scenarios seem to suggest ways to cope, even if it means a grim form of acquiescence.The author delights in blending metaphor with his characters’ realities. In “The Ice Man,” the female narrator describes her marriage to a man who contains many of the properties of frozen water and snow. She meets him at a ski resort, marries him and ends up moving to Antarctica, where they have an ice child. It is not a happy ending.Another favorite device is to get two people involved with one another, then have one of them disappear either emotionally, physically – or both. There is seldom reason given, but from the abandoned partner’s reactions we get a poignant sense of what might have gone wrong, even if they can’t see it. Like flies against a window pane, they continue to bump against the glass, oblivious, sad and alone.Reading Murakami’s stories is rather like spending a lot of time in an abstract art gallery. Much of the meaning comes from the beholder willing to spend the time thinking about it. Murakami’s stories don’t lay things out simply for easy consumption; they demand a fair amount of thought, even if the language itself is simple and spare.Book review”Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman”by Haruki MurakamiKnopf, 334 pages$24.95Alex Miller can be reached at 748-2931, or Daily, Vail, Colorado

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