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I decided to read some Murakami for a few reasons. So many girls on OK Cupid claim to love him, and they usually list other decent writers alongside him. I want to relate to these chicks I’ll never meet. Murakami is still alive, unlike all my heroes. I’ve read some Ishiguro, but not much Japanese writing otherwise. The proprietor of Doug Miller Books, the fantastic second-hand bookstore located at Bloor around Christie, recommended this one to me after I told him I had already read and loved Barney’s Version and A Confederacy of Dunces. You trust a man after he recommends you those.

I really liked the stories. The narrative alternates between swift glossing over of years and extended dialogue. To give a picture of his aesthetic, it seemed to me like a Japanese water colour painting in that the focus of the painting isn’t situated squarely in the middle. Murakami puts the central event of the story in a corner or over to the side, and this has the effect of rendering what went on before or after more pertinent. I think this is what gives his stories weight while writing with such a light hand. Each story has space.

Light hand: this may sound like a stupid, clichéd term, so let me expands. Murakami talks about hard ons and hangovers while citing different old jazz musicians and literary references, so there’s no pretentious baggage that often accompanies “literature.” He writes about people who are fun-loving and light-hearted people, and also dark and suicidal, portraying them all with a pretty full picture in a short space. He’s a minimalist, meaning there’s no room for bullshit. Though remember, I’ve only read these short stories so I’m only describing his writing as it pertains to this collection. I’ll get to his novels one day soon maybe.

He’s good on dreams and surrealism. What I mean is he takes for granted that the fiction doesn’t need to correspond to journalistic standards of writing where things must be proved,  accurate, fact-based. If a frog comes to save Tokyo from an earthquake we must not ask if this is really possible. You will miss the point.

Imagination isn’t bound in good fiction.

I am amused that the Washington Post Book World described him as “poetic.” I hope this critic has read him in Japanese, not in English translation. I found the stories taut, moving, and suggestive of more than is there. Not poetic, but light. Perhaps this is what they meant, or maybe they meant to write something that would sell books.

The stories are easy to read, but I feel like they’ll reward rereading too. There’s more to get out of them. He’s anything but a stuffy, stodgy writer, and he is more wise than what people think of when they say “literary.” His sentences are stark and short, not the generous,  expansive, majestic stuff of Melville. But still, he’s cool.

Good stuff Murakami.

7.3/10…a fine rating.