5:26:18 Men Without Women, a book review

One name usually on any short list for the Nobel Prize in Literature is Haruki Murakami. Despite wide readership--his stylish prose often characterized as addictive--he's the perennial also-ran. A natural question is, Why?

book cover

I'd answer, despite style, Murakami ultimately lacks both gravitas and legs. In a hundred years, something beyond hooks to pop culture and homages to American hard-boiled must endure as literature that matters at a Nobel Laureate standard. As in Bob Dylan's lyrics matter as historical testament to the 60s going forward.

Murakami's latest work published in the U.S., Men Without Women, collects seven tales about men losing women and living with the void. When the Nobel Literature committee finally reconstitutes itself, I doubt this work strengthens the case for Murakami-san grabbing top prize.

While I can't touch on all stories, the second, “Yesterday,” illustrates some of my reservations. The narrator, presumably standing in for a young Murakami, recalls a friend from college days, Kitaru. Both were twenty. An odd pair, the narrator, born in Kansai [Osaka/Kobe region] lost his regional accent and speaks a perfect Tokyo accent; Kitaru, born elsewhere, a wild Hanshin Tigers baseball fan, diligently learns the Kansai accent to be accepted as a native fan.

A typical Murakami strategy of elaborate character tagging to temporarily divert attention from the real point of the story.

Kitaru has known his girlfriend, Erika, since elementary school. The narrator asks, “Have you gone all the way?” Reasonable for one twenty-year-old male to ask another.

Kitaru answers, “I just couldn't. I've known her since she was a kid ... even just thinking about doing it with her—I dunno—it just seems wrong. You know?”

Murakami resolves this by simply having Erika climb into the sack with the first fellow she dates at university. Kitaru gives up on college, disappears, and years later is found to be a sushi chef, working in Denver, Colorado.

My problem with Murakami is the neglect of more interesting nuance. For me, Kitaru and Erika have a near brother-sister bond and incest might hover in the wings, certainly for Kitaru. No, Murakami does the easy windup of no woman can wait forever. No gravitas there.

I also have reservations about the other stories, and so wouldn't single out Men Without Women as a Murakami must-read. One of his weaker outings, along with the recent vintage Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage.

Image credits: amazon.com


Read more ...
(click to enlarge image)

Read Charlie Dickinson's story collection [and feel free to share with a friend] The Cat at Light's End, as an ebook in these downloadable formats:

.mobi (Kindle)
.epub (most other readers)
.pdf (for PCs)


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