cover image The Elephant Vanishes: Stories

The Elephant Vanishes: Stories

Haruki Murakami. Knopf Publishing Group, $21 (327pp) ISBN 978-0-679-42057-6

A popular Japanese novelist who lives in New Jersey but sets his fictions in Japan, Murakami ( A Wild Sheep Chase ) invests everyday events with surreal overtones to create 17 disturbing existential conundrums. Things appear from, and disappear to, alternate levels of reality with frightening ease: A man glimpses an elephant shrinking, and its keeper growing, shortly before the animal vanishes from a suburban Tokyo zoo; a woman tortures a little green monster who crawls out of her garden to propose marriage; while another man watches impassively as three silent, tiny strangers--``TV People''--invade his house, install a TV set and take over his life. Even more strictly earthbound stories have the quality of modern fables, as when a newlywed couple hold up a McDonald's to break the curse that gives them late-night hunger attacks, or when an out-of-work paralegal copes with his angry wife, a flirtatious teenage neighbor and an anonymous woman phone caller who seems to know everything about him. In both his playful throwaway sketches and his darkly comic masterpieces, Murakami has proven himself a virtuoso with a fertile imagination. (Mar.)