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Delightful postmodern urban surrealism: similar to R. Carver
on July 9, 2000
This is perhaps the best collection of 20th/21st century urban short stories I have ever read. Murakami's ability to create compelling characters in just a few paragraphs, and place them in absurd situations, is unrivaled.
Murakami is right on par with Raymond Carver, maybe even more challenging and interesting -- since Murakami's story premise is more often absurd and surreal, unlike Carver's "around the house and in the yard" focus. But the clipped sentences, the meetings of strangers, and the very self-aware male narrators, are quite similar.
"The Kangaroo Communique," which appears in this collection, is one of my all-time favorite pieces of short fiction -- and it actually reminds me more of Borges than of Carver. It is about kangaroos, and customer service at a department store, and stalkers, and the nature of self-representation.... well, just read it.
Thematic similarities between Murakami and Carver: lapses in communication, people just missing each other, chance encounters between urban strangers, etc. One major difference between the two writers is that Murakami is always in awe at the (sometimes incomprehensible, sometimes cruel) beauty of the world, while Carver tends to border on the morose.
Personally, I much prefer Murakami's stories to the one novel of Murakami's ("Hardboiled Wonderland") that I read -- his succinct, slightly neurotic, slightly dreamy first-person style is (in my opinion) best suited to the short story form.
Overall, these are exquisite short stories, perfect for the age of chance meetings, lonely drifting souls, and cyber-disconnectedness.... If you like these stories, you may also like Murakami's very imaginative and inventive novels. (I prefer his short stories, but that's just me.) For fans of clever, self-referential, semi-surreal short stories similar to Murakami's, I'd highly recommend the short story anthology "Ficciones" by Jorge Luis Borges.