Sunday, December 02, 2007

The Elephant Vanishes (Haruki Murakami)

I actually thought I had read this collection before until I idly picked it up the other day and realized that, no, I’d just read a number of the stories in other places—usually the New Yorker, either when they were originally published or in the Complete New Yorker collection. The unexpected discovery of an unread Murakami book right there on my very own bookshelf naturally required immediate attention.

Unsurprisingly, The Elephant Vanishes is a great collection, full of Murakami’s usual array of directionless men, mysterious women, surreal events intruding into otherwise normal lives, and ordinary events taking on sudden and unexpected meaning. “The Wind-Up Bird and Tuesday’s Women,” which later appeared in revised form as the opening of the sprawling, phenomenal Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, is a great little story on its own. (Oddly, the novel’s sinister Noboru Wataya character is here named Noboru Watanabe, a name that Murakami also uses in two other stories, with no obvious connection between them and to no obvious end.) Others feature both weirdly inexplicable occurrences (the title story, in which an elephant and its keeper vanish mysteriously one evening, and “The TV People,” in which smallish men appear in the narrator’s apartment, rearrange his living room, and set up a television); more traditional realist stories (“Lederhosen,” in which a pair of German shorts impels a woman to suddenly divorce her husband); and events that fall somewhere in between (“The Second Bakery Attack,” in which a newly married couple decide to dispel a curse on the husband by robbing a McDonald’s of bread in the middle of the night; “Sleep,” in which a housewife suddenly loses her need to sleep).

Unfortunately, after finishing it, I examined our bookshelves closely and found no other unread Murakami works hiding there. So I guess I’ll have to wait for more until I get a chance to pick up After Dark.

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