Matthew Quann's Reviews > Men Without Women: Stories

Men Without Women by Haruki Murakami
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It’s that special time of year where I return to the works of Haruki Murakami to see how I feel about the guy. For those of you who have been following my slow reading of Murakami, I loved the first novel I read by him, 1Q84, was ho-hum about The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle , considered abandoning Murakami after really disliking Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage , and had my faith restored when I listened to What I Talk About When I Talk About Running .

So, having felt the ebb and flow of my appreciation for Murakami, I’m happy to come back on an annual basis to check the depth of my enjoyment. This year’s candidate: Men Without Women, which also happens to fit in nicely with my attempt to read a short story collection per month in 2018. I’ve provided a brief review of each story below for your perusal and an overall review at the end. Enjoy!

1. Drive My Car *****
I really enjoyed this one! A great character study of an aging actor and widow who enlists the services of a female driver after losing his license due to a DUI. I liked the philosophical musings in this story and appreciated the lack of the supernatural. Great start to the collection!

2. Yesterday ***
When a buddy is unable to make the next move with his girlfriend, what do you do? You go on a date with his girlfriend? Sounds like you’ve got a classic Murakami socially awkward situation! This failed to land for me with the circuitous dialogue that occasionally plagues Murakami’s writing, as well as a character with whom I failed to identify. Still, some interesting expository bits and some nice turns of phrase.

3. An Independent Organ ***1/2
A man reflects on his squash-partner’s career, personal life, and strange death. The salacious details of Dr. Tokai’s sexcapades were intriguing, but the heartbreak that leads him to his strange death is treated as some sort of right of passage on the way to self-discovery. A bit strange, this one didn’t totally land for me.

4. Scheherazade **
“I told you about being a lamprey in a former life, right?” From there, a man has frequent, perfunctory sex with a woman who tells a really good story. This one’s my least favourite of the stories to date, though you just gotta appreciate how weird Murakami can get sometimes.

5. Kino ****1/2
This lands right in the Murakami sweet spot for me. It’s a good mix of introspection, enticing story developments, and the surreal. What perhaps makes this story most effective is that it deals with repression and shame in a way that seems universal and not just limited to the odd turns in narrative that Murakami often takes. Also, there’s got to be some Murakami-Bingo points for: mystical cat, jazz music, surreal experience.

6. Samsa in Love ****
This is another hit, though it is also another reminder that I’ve yet to read Kafka’s Metamorphosis. Though I’m not sure if it’s supposed to be set before or after the novella, I was fine motoring my way through the story with what little knowledge I had from popular culture. This is also the story that feels most different from Murakami’s standard story telling. I’m a fan!

7. Men Without Women *
Ooomph. This is my least favourite type of Murakami. When he alters between the ethereal and wallowing men. It seemed more like notes to a potential story than a story itself. What a sour note to leave on.

Average Score: ***

This has been a really great collection for me, primarily to help me suss out what type of Murakami stories I enjoy most. It seems that I prefer his stories most when they have a clear direction, and I get irritated with him when it seems like he’s a lovesick college boy trying weed for the first time. With this in mind, I think this collection is going to help guide me towards his novels that are perhaps better suited to me.

All in all, not my favourite short story collection of the year, but still a worthy mixed bag. It would also be a good choice for the Murakami initiate!
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Reading Progress

August 14, 2017 – Shelved
August 14, 2017 – Shelved as: to-read
September 29, 2018 – Started Reading
September 30, 2018 –
page 41
17.08% "I'll be doing a brief review of each story in the collection for this one since Murakami bounces around my rating scale like no other author."
October 9, 2018 –
page 146
60.83% "Strange as always!"
October 11, 2018 – Shelved as: literary-fiction
October 11, 2018 – Shelved as: worldly
October 11, 2018 – Shelved as: short-story-collections
October 11, 2018 – Shelved as: murakami
October 11, 2018 – Finished Reading
October 20, 2018 – Shelved as: short-story-challenge-2018

Comments Showing 1-8 of 8 (8 new)

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message 1: by Dianne (new) - added it

Dianne Excellent review, Matthew!

Matthew Quann Dianne wrote: "Excellent review, Matthew!"

Thanks, Dianne. Much appreciated!

message 3: by Laysee (new)

Laysee Good plan, Matthew, to read a short story collection every month. Thanks for this review. I'll save your snippets of each story for later in case I wish to read them. Like you, I have not consistently enjoyed Murakami's writing. I've read three so far and only liked Norwegian Woods. But I do want to read his book about running and perhaps, this collection, too.

Matthew Quann Thanks, Laysee! Murakami has been so hit and miss for me that I knew a compartmentalized review was the only fair way to evaluate this collection. It was actually a good exercise in figuring out what makes a “good” Murakami story for me. On that note, his running book is very different from the rest, but also really tight.

As for the short story project, it’s been a great 2018 challenge! I’ve developed a deeper palate for short fiction and it’s a great way to take a short break from whatever else I happen to be reading. This one is by no means the best, but a good stylistic departure.

message 5: by Mel (new)

Mel I so completely share your love/contempt of the guy. メタモン

message 6: by Glenn (new)

Glenn Sumi “... like a lovesick college boy trying weed for the first time” = hahahaha. So good. Thanks for this very detailed and helpful review! I too find his work uneven.

Matthew Quann Thanks, Mel! He holds a special place in my heart because I sometimes love his writing, and other times wish I had never picked up one of his books.

Matthew Quann Thanks, Glenn! Glad I got a laugh: I thought it was an apt comparison! Have you read any of his stuff that I haven’t gotten around to? The ultra-attractive binding on his latest novel and the synopsis has me intrigued, but I’m open to some of his older works too.

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