cover image Men Without Women

Men Without Women

Haruki Murakami, trans. from the Japanese by Philip Gabriel and Ted Goosen. Knopf, $25.95 (240p) ISBN 978-0-451-49462-7

In this collection of new stories, Murakami (1Q84) returns to familiar themes of youthful regrets, untenable romantic triangles, strange manifestations of sexual frustration, and inexplicable, often otherworldly happenings while dipping into the lives of seven middle-aged men, each caught up in the passions of a mysterious woman. In “Drive My Car,” a stage actor hires a new driver, his first female chauffeur. Between rehearsing lines and listening to classic rock, the normally reticent widower begins to chat with the young driver, eventually revealing a friendship he formed with one of his former wife’s lovers. In “Yesterday,” a man who works at a coffee shop convinces a coworker to date his girlfriend while he works to pass his university entrance exams. In “An Independent Organ,” a plastic surgeon who lives a contrived life of well-managed affairs descends into depression and starves himself to death after falling in (unrequited) love with one of his liaisons. Although the plotting can be repetitive, Murakami’s ability to center the stories on sentimental but precise details creates a long-lasting resonance. For instance, the narrator of “An Independent Organ” can never use a squash racket the plastic surgeon left him: the lightness reminds him of his frail, dying body. In “Scheherazade,” the standout of the collection, a man who can never be outside for unexplained reasons develops a bond with his in-home caretaker, who tells him stories after they have sex. She remembers being a lamprey in a former life and misses the profound silence of the sea floor. (May)