Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman. Haruki Murakami.

Murakami, Haruki. Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman. Vintage New York 2006. F;01/12.

Twenty-four short stories that redefine short fiction for me. There’s no (and no need for) trendy popping up of the same characters to tie the stories together, just dazzling significance by breathtakingly distant implication.

The style is so attractively colloquial one could read the stories almost for that alone. The (for us who don’t speak Japanese) translation problem crops up, but there are two translators and that easy-going matter-of-factness that I find effortlessly reassuring is consistent between them, so I guess it must somehow be there in the Japanese. The stories have no consistency of venue or character type, he’s just fine with whodunit, love story, psychological drama, fantasy, bizarre plot situations.

What’s consistent is this sudden vertical drop into deeply significant ambiguity that’s absolutely there, beyond any question, once I get over the roller coaster vertigo. Having once felt it I can’t help but ask why it wouldn’t be there all the time? No reason; it is. At one point in “Chance Traveler”, one of my favorites, the gay third-person protagonist helps a dear nice lady who has mistakenly propositioned him, after very kindly explaining the situation, to deal with her trouble, by saying,

If you have to choose between something that has form and something that doesn’t, go for the one without form. That’s my rule. Whenever I run into a wall I follow the rule, and it always works out. Even if it’s hard going at the time.

That’s Murakami’s rule. He seems to me to let us know at the start of that story (by appearing as a first-person narrator himself, by name, “the author of the story”) that we’re going to get his view of the real goods unambiguously for once. The story is about coincidence, and at the end he tells us as seriously as anything in the collection that he hopes there’s someone up there unobtrusively watching over the woman.

About the 60s vis-à-vis today:

Nowadays, if you try to grasp the reality of anything, there’s always a whole slew of convoluted extras that come with it: hidden advertising, dubious discount coupons, point cards stores hand out that you know you should throw away but still hold on to, options that are forced on you before you know what’s happening. Back in Our Age, nobody plunked down indecipherable three-volume owners’ manuals in front of you. Whatever it was, we just clutched it in our hands and took it straight home — like taking a baby chick home from one of those nighttime stands. Everything was simple and direct. Cause and effect were good buddies back then: thesis and reality hugged each other like it was the most natural thing in the world. And my guess is that the 60s were the last time that’ll ever happen.

My guess is that that happens with every generation, and for people born after the war the 60s was the last time it’ll ever happen to them. The setting is a tragic love story, and the emblematic line is “And when it was all over, the king and his retainers burst out laughing.” He gets the joke.

Dynamite. I’m looking forward to finding his new novel at the bookstore in Sechelt. 9.5

About John Sloan

John Sloan is a senior academic physician in the Department of Family Practice at the University of British Columbia, and has spent most of his 30 years' practice caring for the frail elderly in Vancouver. He is the author of "A Bitter Pill: How the Medical System is Failing the Elderly", published in 2009 by Greystone Books. His innovative primary care practice for the frail elderly has been adopted by Vancouver Coastal Health and is expanding. Dr. Sloan lectures throughout North America on care of the elderly.
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