Men Without Women
Who Should Read It:
Readers looking for an easy introduction to Haruki Murakami, a celebrated and unconventional author.
Why Should We Read It:
Readers will discover a mellow, introspective, and subliminal experience.
What Will We Learn:
Not every story needs a plot. Sometimes what we want are the emotions generated by a plot.
"...whether emotionally or physically, by free will or by fate, the male protagonist is alone. "
One day, my wife came home from the library with a stack of hardcover novels. Among them was a slim yellow book by Haruki Murakami: Men Without Women. For several nights, my wife would sit in our bed with the slim yellow book. Then one night, the book lay on her dresser, unheralded and ignored. I asked her how she liked that collection of short stories. My wife admitted that she pushed herself to get through the first story, and she couldn’t bring herself to finish the second. “I don’t know why you like him so much, and please don’t tell me his work is like eating matcha ice cream.” We laughed at our inside joke. I promised her I would read this slim yellow book and see what other culinary insight I could derive.
"For Mr. Murakami, no plot is needed. His stories seemingly meander without direction, and then abruptly end."
I can understand why it is difficult to enjoy Mr. Murakami's works. Most of us are used to plot-driven stories. There is a hero's journey that must be completed, and a conflict for which resolution must be found. For Mr. Murakami, no plot is needed. His stories seemingly meander without direction, and then abruptly end. Men Without Women's first story is a good example. In this story, a female chauffeur drives an aging actor between his theater and home. The actor finds it remarkable that he is unable to detect when she shifts the car into the next gear. Similarly, the actor cannot find that exact moment that prompted his wife to begin an affair. The chauffeur and the actor minimally interact; most of the time they sit in silence, lost in their private ruminations.
The second story offers an even more subliminal experience. In this story, an eccentric young man convinces a coworker to go on a date with his longtime girlfriend. The coworker can infer that the couple might have been together for too long to remain status quo, and together for too long to be neatly untangled from each other. At that date, the girlfriend reveals she cannot understand why her eccentric boyfriend will not settle down with her. She describes a recurring dream in which the moon, only eight inches thick and made of ice, melts by morning time. When she wakes up, she is unbearably sad; the ice moon is nowhere to be found. Inexplicably, I also felt an intense melancholic longing when I read that passage about the moon. I still have absolutely no idea why I reacted that way.
"Mr. Murakami: never the first choice, mellow in experience, yet strangely satisfying nonetheless."
All the short stories within Men Without Women depict exactly what the title describes: whether emotionally or physically, by free will or by fate, the male protagonist is alone. These are most certainly not romantic stories. Sex and sexual tension in these stories feel like interesting nonessential details, if they are present at all. It is as if Mr. Murakami is trying to express that there is something deeper than love or sex that bind men and women together. We are each other's final piece of the puzzle, but the piece fits imperfectly and the puzzle still remains incomplete with or without the final piece. Men, Women, Ice Moons, Mr. Murakami himself- they're all just like matcha ice cream- never the first choice, mellow in experience, yet strangely satisfying nonetheless.