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Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman: Twenty-four Stories

Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman - Haruki Murakami Tokyo, Sunday 3 November 2013, 1944 local time

I'll borrow a page from the Penketron playbook, and put out a longish entry on a short and sweet book. but wait, BLIND WILLOW, SLEEPING WOMAN isn't actually a short book. it's twenty four short stories by that master of hyper-contemporary Japanese literature, Haruki Murakami, some 360+ printed pages of text or presumably in excess of 70,000 words+. so why does the adjective phrase "short and sweet" apply so easily to HM's output? possibly for the same exact reason that Murakami was resisted by the famous "Japanese literary establishment" in his first decade of writing 1979-1989, for his neo-contemporary, sweet without seeming substance, word-play without historical sweep, even 'superficial without profundity' surrealism and confection-like style. love or hate, though, Murakami remains the touchstone of 1990s-2010s Japanese letters, and if he lands the Nobel or if he doesn't he is still the number one name to discuss before you turn to talk of other J-greats, Ryu Murakami, Miyuki Miyabe, Natsuo Kirino, et al. do you like the neon-swept high-definition television screen lit up weekend paradises of Shibuya, Shinjuku and Roppongi? or is Japan to you its forgotten islands and wind-swept valleys deep in forgotten seaside prefectures? is your taste in dessert honey-dripping cinnamon apple goodness or do you think coffee should be black and bitter?

in a twist worthy of the surreal style of HM himself, a short work like this conversely inspired far more examination than a 1000 page tome on WW1. what can a reviewer say about an academic work filled with accurate statistics and day-by-day coverage of the micro-changes on the Western Front, when after all the 24 stories of BWSW offer a dozen possibilities or more of critical reading?

for example, just starting, I might point out
* Birthday Girl's double inclusion in this and After Dark (?) to inspire separate effects in each collection
* 'How He talked to Himself as if Reciting Poetry's' intertextual reference to Raymond Carver's most storied story
* Hunting Knife and hidden revelation about J feelings on the US
* 'A Perfect Day' being Salinger redux
* Nausea 1979 on a friend who might be the nauseating
* Sharpie Cakes' allegory being revealed in the preface
* ice Man's verbal similarity to 'Gaijin'
* Crabs and the Sinic English speakers?
etc. etc. etc.

Rather than dwelling on each piece, or rather, before dwelling on each piece, I guess the most intelligent thing to point out is that, possibly in the year 2050, some scientific/CS/IT analytical solution of human minds will point out that the fact that a CD album and a novel or short story collection are not coincidentally about 2 MB or data each (up to 4, depending on resolution). in other words, a year's output as a single, discreet artistic object are in some bizarre coincidence, almost exactly the same amount of binary data. well, most pop music is actually a collaborative output, but then, so to speak, writers exist in a unseen team of agents, publishers, marketers,, and critics. do were merely conclude that 2 - 4 MB of data is just enough coverage to examine in whole, race, sexuality, culture, and philosophy? and if so, does BWSW cover all those bases, in particularly with reference to Takitani, Hanalei Bay, Dabchick, and NY Mining Disaster? and is the last a dream dreamt of by asphyxiating miners or are the miners dreamt of by the modern Tokyo twenty-somethings?

I think any Haruki Murakami work has to include the simple fact that surrealism and strange imagery, strange juxtaposition does of course carry its own charm and possibly even its own message. perversely, the more Murakami seems to in this work communicate nausea or uneasiness about the foreign, the more spectacularly well-liked his work is by the foreign audience. one of the things about HM, of course, is that he is actually a pro-foreign writer in a way Mishima certainly was not, and that probably Kawabata will never be thought of as. even Soseki's outside country characters don't seem spectacularly front and center, this is possibly the challenge of J-lit and it's source of appeal. what is meant to be said is that simply exclusion is its own justification.

in any case, this review is probably reaching its justifiable length regardless of prior attitude or commitment. if you are unsure whether to commit to the time and effort of this work, do HANALEI BAY, do the title piece, and maybe TONY TAKITANI, and if none of the three strike a chord, probably the collection as a whole will be a loss. however, if you are a Murakami fanatic and Norwegian Wood seems written "just for you," of course plenty of discussion inspired ascertaining exactly whether Murakami is a limousine liberal of the upper-middle class, a channeler of the sentiments that exist in the Friday night kitchens of Aoyama, or whether his work is going to spectacularly endure for three centuries as the first J-writer to escape the weight of pre-war Japanese tradition. 

in any case, this is perhaps the classical Murakami short story collection. surrealism meets actual narration, and exceeds AFTER DARK in its sweep of the human life, history both personal and national, as well as possibly the most elegant case study of juxtaposition ever written, NY MINING DISASTER.