I was skimming my library’s bookshelves before my recent trip (sans husband ironically enough) when I stumbled across Men Without Women (女のいない男たち) by Haruki Murakami. I had read his memoir What I Talk About When I Talk About Running Summer 2014 (literally to the day that this is being written), and fell in love with the simple poetic prose that shapes his writing.
Men Without Women is a collection of short stories looking at men who for whatever reason are alone. It is darkly realistic, with a wry sense of humor threaded throughout the book. There are transformations, missed connections, and the loss of loved ones. Women are the reason in most of the cases that find these men lonely, but the book was in no way a Battle of the Sexes. It did not feel as if Murakami was blaming women for men’s misfortune, but that like in all things in life it is often a tangled web that brings people to where they are.
The short stories are thorough, and are written so masterfully that anyone who reads them will come away changed (not necessarily just men or couples). I did not read the collection and feel as if something was lacking: there was a clearly defined beginning and middle, with a satisfying end to each story. One of my favorite stories was “Kino,” a tale about a man who becomes a bar tender after he finds his wife cheating on him. Some of Murakami’s personal life shines through in the character’s collegiate running background, and the story was a complex blend that pushes the boundaries of what is reality. Kafka’s novella The Metamorphosis makes an appearance in reverse which was a delightful surprise: what happens when the beetle turns back into a man?
The Japanese culture has a vibrant sex industry so it would benefit the reader to brush up on these differences from American norms in order to enrich the reading experience. (And make sure safety mode is on when you begin Googling terms!) This book is a great pick for readers who have ever been lonely, have known love lost, are looking for a change, or are questioning the branches they have taken in life. Men Without Women may be full of short stories, but they are stories that you will turn over and around in your brain long after you have put down the book.