Thursday, March 31, 2016

'Like the secretive, quiet fall of rain, they steal into the gloom'


They say that surrealist author Haruki Murakami captures the 'common ache' of the 'contemporary heart and mind'. I thought this was a pretty spot-on description of some of his best short stories. I began reading Murakami in 2007, and he was a writer whose work and style resonated so strongly for me at that time where I'm confronted with the ambiguities of daily existence. He will always hold a special place in my heart as one of my favorite writers, although I will honestly say that over the years I've grown less affected of his stories than when I was a teenager which I think is for the best. 

However, since life is indeed fickle, I once again found myself in another low point last year, and thus continue to heal from that to this day. Reading The Elephant Vanishes was a most welcome endeavor then, because if there was any author that understands how inexplicable and often unknowable one's self is, it's Murakami-sensei.

Composed of seventeen enthralling tales with the titular story as its ending piece, this anthology is possibly one of the more interesting collections from Murakami. It opens with an excerpt from his thick work The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, and becomes more engrossing and weird by the time The Second Bakery Attack rolls around which was just hilarious, followed shortly after by the creepy correspondence-styled prose The Kangaroo Communique. Anecdotal stories like On seeing the 100% Perfect Girl one Beautiful April Morning, Lederhosen, The Little Green Monster, A Window and Barn Burning were simple in concept but layered with more meaning and symbolism, heightened by the Murakami treatment said author has become famous for. Barn Burning was personally chilling as endearing as Lederhosen has been. The Little Green Monster was a piece I re-read at least thrice to fully enjoy and comprehend, however. These tales were especially  intriguing.

The rest, particularly TV People, A Slow Boat to China, The Silence, The Lawn of the Afternoon and The Fall of the Roman Empire... were puzzling enough to see all the way through the end, but I will probably include them as the Murakami stories that least appealed to me in this collection. The Dancing Dwarf and The Elephant Vanishes are stories with a more surreal quality that is on par with The Little Green Monster, and reminded me that Murakami's biggest influence after all is Franz Kafka. He truly delivers with these three stories from the anthology that marks his Kafkaesque sensibilities.

There is a lot to enjoy and appreciate for this book, and each story is a matter of perspective and acquired taste for a reader. In saying that, my two favorite stories have to be Sleep and Family Affair. These stories are interpersonal and relationship-oriented as contextualized with their impact in one's identity and self-actualization. Both narrators of stories feel a sense of unraveling where their own personal freedom is at stake by forces outside of their control. The narrator for Sleep is an ordinary married woman whose chronic insomnia began to affect how she viewed her own mortality and family, while the narrator for Family Affair is an eternal bachelor whose close relationship with his sister and lack of discernible stronger emotional ties aside from it have made him internalized the hollowness of his individuality. 

I think these are my favorite stories because--at point or another in my life--I was these two people. I understood the narrators' baffling repugnance towards their own loved ones; how lackadaisical Family Affair's narrator was about his singlehood and how it affects how he relates to other people in general; how Sleep narrators feels as if her life has been prolonged by the restlessness of her mind and spirit that everything and everyone else felt small compared to her own tragedy. These tales for me were so horrific and sad, and deftly written and portrayed by Murakami.

I liked these stories because they simply held a mirror to reflect my deepest, darkest fears and anxieties about my life and its contents including its relationships and dysfunctions. Though there are more clever and interesting stories in the anthology, Sleep and Family Affair struck the right chord in me and this is why they are the tales that are most valuable and insightful for me here in The Elephant Vanishes.



RECOMMENDED: 8/10

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