One of the Best Books of the Year: The Washington Post, NPR, and Esquire
“[A] beguilingly irresistible book. Like a lost lover, it holds on tight long after the affair is over.” —The New York Times Book Review
“Classic Murakami. . . . [His] voice—cool, poised, witty, characterized by a peculiar blend of whimsy and poignancy, wit and profundity—hasn’t lost its power to unsettle even as it amuses.” —The Boston Globe
“Time and again in these seven stories, Murakami displays his singular genius.” —Los Angeles Times
“Intimate, captivating and poignant. . . . A short story is brief enough to be perfectible—and Men Without Women showcases that.” —The Kansas City Star
“Beautifully rendered.” —Financial Times
“Affecting. . . . Murakami is a master of the open-ended mystery. . . . His meandering, mesmerizing tales of profound alienation are driven by puzzling circumstances that neither his characters nor readers can crack—recalling existentialist Gabriel Marcel’s assertion that ‘Life is not a problem to be solved but a mystery to be experienced.’” —The Washington Post
“[Murakami] remains in top form.” —San Francisco Chronicle
“Each of the seven stories here [is] a gem in and of its own right, but strung together they’re a sparkling strand of precious stones, the light refracted from each equally brilliant but the tones varying subtly. . . . I have something of a love/hate relationship with short stories. Too many mediocre offerings leave me despairing of the genre, but then a collection like Men Without Women comes along and all is forgiven, my faith restored in the recognition of how utterly perfect the medium can be—in the right hands.” —Lucy Scholes, The Independent
“Charming and funny.” —Vulture
“The best of these stories hold the excitement of a quest: These odd episodes of awakening desire show men startled into an awareness of how they have shorted themselves on life.” —Minneapolis Star Tribune
“Murakami’s greatest strength is his creation of environments just eccentric enough to wrong-foot you—not exactly magical realism, but perhaps enigmatic realism. . . . When his writing is at its best, his characters act as a fisheye lens through which to scrutinize a slightly off-kilter world that surrounds them.” —The New Republic
“Masterful. . . . The mundane gives way suddenly, like an ice floe cracking under our feet, only to reconstitute itself a moment later and swallow up that brief glimpse of what lies below.” —Vice
“A whimsical delight. . . . Sanity might be overrated, but Murakami is surely not.” —The Christian Science Monitor
Across seven tales, Haruki Murakami brings his powers of observation to bear on the lives of men who, in their own ways, find themselves alone. Here are lovesick doctors, students, ex-boyfriends, actors, bartenders, and even Kafka’s Gregor Samsa, brought together to tell stories that speak to us all. In Men Without Women Murakami has crafted another contemporary classic, marked by the same wry humor and pathos that have defined his entire body of work.
In this collection of new stories, Murakami (1Q84) returns to familiar themes of youthful regrets, untenable romantic triangles, strange manifestations of sexual frustration, and inexplicable, often otherworldly happenings while dipping into the lives of seven middle-aged men, each caught up in the passions of a mysterious woman. In “Drive My Car,” a stage actor hires a new driver, his first female chauffeur. Between rehearsing lines and listening to classic rock, the normally reticent widower begins to chat with the young driver, eventually revealing a friendship he formed with one of his former wife’s lovers. In “Yesterday,” a man who works at a coffee shop convinces a coworker to date his girlfriend while he works to pass his university entrance exams. In “An Independent Organ,” a plastic surgeon who lives a contrived life of well-managed affairs descends into depression and starves himself to death after falling in (unrequited) love with one of his liaisons. Although the plotting can be repetitive, Murakami’s ability to center the stories on sentimental but precise details creates a long-lasting resonance. For instance, the narrator of “An Independent Organ” can never use a squash racket the plastic surgeon left him: the lightness reminds him of his frail, dying body. In “Scheherazade,” the standout of the collection, a man who can never be outside for unexplained reasons develops a bond with his in-home caretaker, who tells him stories after they have sex. She remembers being a lamprey in a former life and misses the profound silence of the sea floor. (May)
Murakami's last story collection, 2009's Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman, was followed by five consecutive New York Times best sellers, with 2014's Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage hitting the top spot and now boasting more than 250,000 copies in print. Five of the seven stories in this new collection, focusing on men who find themselves alone, have stirred interest by appearing in The New Yorker.
"Our relationship isn't exactly…normal": as ever, a glimpse into the strange worlds people invent by the always inventive Murakami (Absolutely on Music: Conversations, 2016, etc.).If you are one of Murakami's male characters, you do what you can to be different: sure, you sleep around and drink a lot of whiskey, but you also read books and listen to music, especially his beloved Beatles, who provide two of the seven chapter titles here. If the title story pays homage to Hemingway, there's nothing much Hemingway-esque about any of the players except perhaps a world-weary resignation to the way things are, as well as a few odd affectations that may not mean much to non-Japanese readers; in the story "Yesterday," for instance, one character speaks a dialect from a region that isn't his own. "Why does somebody who was born and raised in Tokyo go to the trouble of learning the Kansai dialect and speak it all the time?" Why indeed? If you are a female Murakami character, you are likely to be disaffected and a little lonely, though no more passive than any of the males: things happen to Murakami's people more than they make things happen. Nowhere is this more true than in the compellingly odd tale "Samsa in Love," which opens, with Kafkaesque matter-of-factness, with the words "He woke to discover that he had undergone a metamorphosis and become Gregor Samsa." Aside from a certain priapism, things aren't all that much different in his life, though a woman he meets schools him in an important truth: "Maybe working on the little things as dutifully and honestly as we can is how we stay sane when the world is falling apart." Considering the state of the world, that's a valuable takeaway and well worth the price of admission. Not groundbreaking but certainly vintage Murakami: a little arch, a little tired, but always elegant.
Read an Excerpt
The call came in after one a.m. and woke me up. Phones ringing in the middle of the night always sound harsh and grating, like some savage metal tool out to destroy the world. I felt it was my duty, as a member of the human race, to put a stop to it, so I got out of bed, padded over to the living room, and picked up the receiver.
A man’s low voice informed me that a woman had vanished from this world forever. The voice belonged to the woman’s husband. At least that’s what he said. And he went on. My wife committed suicide last Wednesday, he said. In any case, I thought I should let you know. In any case. As far as I could make out, there was not a drop of emotion in his voice. It was like he was reading lines meant for a telegram, with barely any space at all between each word. An announcement, pure and simple. Unadorned reality. Period.
What did I say in response? I must have said something, but I can’t recall. At any rate, there was a prolonged period of silence. Like a deep hole in the middle of the road that the two of us were staring into from opposite sides. Then, without a word, as if he were gently placing a fragile piece of artwork on the floor, the man hung up. I stood there, in a white T-shirt and blue boxers, pointlessly clutching the phone.
How did he know about me? I have no idea. Had she mentioned my name to her husband, as an old boyfriend? But why? And how did he know my phone number (which was unlisted)? In the first place, why me? Why would her husband go to the trouble of calling me to let me know his wife had died? I couldn’t imagine she’d left a request like that in a farewell note. We’d broken up years earlier. And we’d never seen each other since–not even once. We had never even talked on the phone.
That’s neither here nor there. The bigger problem was that he didn’t explain a single thing to me. He thought he needed to let me know his wife had killed herself. And somehow he’d gotten hold of my phone number. Beyond that, though–nothing. It seemed his intention was to leave me stuck somewhere in the middle, dangling between knowledge and ignorance. But why? To get me thinking about something?