A few weeks ago I watched my bus pull up and then away from my stop. I live in a pretty backwards city when it comes to transportation so it was going to be at least twenty minutes before the next bus would arrive. My purse was empty of all entertainment so I stopped into our local library to try and find a book. The Beacon Hill branch of the Seattle Public Library is new, clean and understocked. This is a library that has allocated more space to computers and meeting rooms then to book stacks. However an emphasis on technology is probably the direction all libraries are going, so I won’t be too critical. The fiction section in this library is an L-shaped wall. After walking it’s length I ended up in the ‘M’ section and grabbed a title by one of my favorite authors.
The only clear reason I can give for loving Murakami is that he writes stories I would write (but a million times better) and in a way I would write them (but a billion times better). The Elephant Vanishes (1993), a collection of short stories, is not what I would normally grab of any authors work because I’m more of a long haul novel kind of reader. But I needed a book and they were in limited supply so I grabbed Murakami’s first collection, translated by Alfred Birnbaum and Jay Rubin.
I read the whole book and enjoyed every minute of it. However there were only two stories that really stuck with me. The first, A Family Affair (1985) is not typically what I like in Murakami’s writing. The story is a quiet explanation of how life moves on. The main character lives with his sister and has to come to terms with both her fiancé and the fact his life will be changed when she’s married. It’s the kind of story that happens right before a mid-life crisis. The story is sincere but also funny since the main character is a bit of a sarcastic ass and I just really liked it. The second stand out story was The Dancing Dwarf (1984) and I liked it for all the usual Murakami reasons. The story takes place in a surreal factory town where elephants are “refurbished” before being released back into the wild. The main character makes a deal with a mystical dancing dwarf in an attempt to get the girl. Something I find amazing about this story is how complete the world is. It also reminded me of Twin Peaks which I liked. The rest of the stories are not bad and there are some other highlights including the original first bit of The Wind-up Bird Chronicle and a rather funny story about a ravenous young couple holding up a McDonalds. If you’ve never read Murakami before this might be a good place to start because the book spans a variety of styles and the stories are all pretty short. If you’re not into one you can skip it without missing large pieces of a book.