It’s been a while, hasn’t it? I got a new job and everything has been such a time suck. In good news, I have a new job. I’m back in the publishing industry, with a great company and a fantastic new title (Corporate Director of Marketing) with a bunch of new and challenging responsibilities. In great news, my partner, Luis Aguilera, his work at Luis Aguilera Photography has taken off and we’re going to be at SCOPE Miami Beach this December 2017! We will be showing under our art collective and lifestyle brand, DEFI the Norm. Check out all of his nifty photography and artwork at his these Instagrams: @lgaguilera and @defithenorm. It’s taken a village to get this going and I’m very proud of everyone who has made this all possible.
Now, back to what this blog is all about, BOOK REVIEWS! Since I’ve been so busy, it’s taken me a lot longer to finish this collection of short stories and then actually sit down and write it, but I’m happy to announce that this review is going to be of our favorite Japanese writer, Haruki Murakami, and his lovely short story collection, Men Without Women. I was actually given a copy of this collection by my very good friend Michelle who is the process of reading all of Murakami’s novels – a very exciting and rewarding task that she is undergoing right now!
Released in the US in May 2017, this collection of short stories deals less with gender and more with loneliness, alienation and memory. The collection consists of seven short stories, the last one building up to the collection’s title, “Men Without Women.” The stories all flow together chronologically and it all culminates to this quote in the last story: “It’s quite easy to become Men Without Women. You love a woman deeply, and then she goes off somewhere. That’s all it takes.” Basically, all of the short stories deal with men who are grappling with a woman who has left their lives – whether that is literal or figurative. Women have left a hole in these men who are already pretty empty, just like all of the protagonists in Murakami’s novels, but there is something so profound and touching about a lot of these stories that goes beyond just lonely men thinking about the women who have left them.
In my favorite story, “Kino” the main character, whom the story is named after, quits his job and opens a modest bar in the outskirts of Tokyo named after himself. What starts as a traditional Murakami plot with a man working at a bar playing jazz music morphs into an internal tale with supernatural beings, snakes and the avoidance of a broken heart and feelings. I was so taken with this story, I read it over and over again feeling something between enlightenment and sorrow. It’s such a beautiful story about heartbreak, so eloquently written, that my words won’t do it justice and you should just read it yourself. What appears as a story of heartbreak is actually a story about avoidance of feelings. How we let people do things to us and how we internalize this pain and it is only when we take the time to acknowledge everything that we finally find ourselves.
Other stories follow this thread of avoidance and loneliness. All of these men are trying to figure out how women disappeared from them. They clearly do not understand the actions of the women around them and seem to be even more puzzled about the actions they take within their own lives. For example, in the first story, “Drive My Car” a successful but minor actor, Kafuku, is preoccupied with the sudden death of his wife from cancer and the mystery of the numerous affairs she had with fellow actors before she passed away. Kafuku knew about the affairs, but never confronted her about them and now the question of why haunts him in his old age. We learn this through the conversations he has with this female chauffeur, Watari, who has her own secrets. He reveals that he even became friends with one of her suitors to figure out what made the man so special, only to feel even more lost and confused about why he found the need to get to know this man. Within this interaction we get one of the most profound passages in the book about relationships:
“But the proposition that we can look into another person’s heart with perfect clarity strikes me as a fool’s game. I don’t care how well we think we should understand them, or how much we love them. All it can do is cause us pain. Examining your own heart, however, is another matter. I think it’s possible to see what’s in there if you work hard enough at it. So in the end maybe that’s the challenge: to look inside your own heart as perceptively and seriously as you can, and to make peace with what you find there. If we hope to truly see another person, we have to start by looking within ourselves.”
This also is something that all of the men grapple with through out the book. They have such a need to figure out the actions of others and yet, no one ever takes the time to look internally to see how their actions affect others.
So, would I recommend this short story collection? I definitely would. It’s beautifully written and begs the question, what if we all took the time to get to know ourselves, would that help our interactions with others? I think so.