Haruki Murakami’s Men without Women is a series of seven short stories, each written in rather different ways, but all focused on similar stories. All talk about men and their relationship with women. The title is a bit of a misnomer in that way in that there is a female character that is featured in each of the stories. But each male character, in some way or another, is or has been without some ‘woman’ in his life.
One thing that stood out to me in these short stories is the realism of the characters. Even though the characters are not always in realistic situations, the characters respond and act based on some ‘realness’. For example, in one of the short stories, we are introduced to a man and his eccentric friend. This is a friend who learned a completely new dialect because he could, and a friend who was willing to let his best friend go on a date with his girlfriend. The character seemed quite unrealistic, but his actions seem to be grounded in a real character. Short of one exception, each character, despite the short length of story, feels fully developed and acts on motives that make sense.
The other thing that stood out to me was Murakami’s brilliant prose. One line that stuck out to me was that someone was ‘trying to write about essence, rather than the truth’. It seems that his stories are written about the essence of loneliness. The man who befriends an adulterous lover of his wife. The man who falls in love, but when it has ended, willingly allows himself to become a shell of himself. The man who connects only with a nurse who he sleeps with seemingly emotionlessly but listens to with great zeal. Each of these men have something just enough off about them to seem unrealistic and fantastical, but at the same time, the way they interact with women hints at a reality of loneliness.
One thing that I didn’t particularly like about Murakami was the lack of closure. Each of his stories, probably by design, end with a whimper. The conflict seems to be introduced, but the reader doesn’t get to see the payout. I felt this most with the story Kino. He builds this wonderful setting in a bar with mysterious characters, and at its center, is Kino, a bartender who has recently divorced his wife in what he felt was an unloving marriage. His bar is home to a bulky brooding man who keeps to himself unless he has to intervene, a couple where the boyfriend seems to be abusive to his girlfriend, and some nefarious gangster presence. Kino is told to leave by a brooding man, and we see what happens to the bar and where Kino ends up. Before we can get any resolution, the story ends. The lack of resolution certainly heightens Kino’s loneliness in the motel where he ends up, but as a reader, it felt both abrupt and too quiet.
Overall, I would recommend this book. It toes the line between fantastical and realistic perfectly and the characters are a wonder to behold. Murakami backs this all up with entrancing prose that had me highlighting quote after quote while I was reading on my Kindle