Sunday, August 06, 2017

Men Without Women

I have started reading Murakami's latest, a themed collection of short stories called Men Without Women. So far, I've read just the two.
Drive My Car

The opening of this story had be a bit worried, because Kafuku (the main character) is musing about women drivers, how so many are either too aggressive or too timid. While he accepts male drivers can suffer from the same fault, it is nowhere near as frequent. So its a bit funny that Kafuku had an incident in which his licence was suspended and he has to find a driver, who turns out to be a woman, Misaki. Her employer describes her as brusque and not cute but one hell of a driver. There is a fair amount of detail of the way she drives, and of the car she has to drive - a well used SAAB 900 convertible. It is not an easy car to drive but she's so natural that he can't even tell when she changes gears.

It is a whole two months before they have much of a conversation: the one they then have gets very familiar. It starts off innocuously enough, with Misaki asking why Kafuku took up acting - baseball was going nowhere, a girl he fancied suggested it, he found he loved it - particularly being someone other than himself but with the ability to go back to himself. When she asks him why he has no friends, that provokes a long recollection. It isn't clear how much he is just remembering to himself or telling her, but its about the last friend he tried to make, a bloke who had been sleeping with Kafuku's wife before she died - in an attempt to understand why she did it. They end up spending a lot of time together, Kafuku can see the other fellow loved his wife, is grieving - somehow this helps Kafuku come to terms with her infidelity (these things happen) and possibly her death. Sharing this with Misaki brings them closer together - he even allows her to smoke in his precious car - but more in a father-daughter way (he's the same age as her dad) than other forms of intimacy that might exist between a man and a woman. I liked it that way.


The title is inspired both by the nostalgic tone of the story and one of the characters, who used to misuse the Beatles song terribly, adding all sorts of nonsense lyrics to it. That's Kitaru - he and Tanimura (the narrator) work in the same coffee shop, have similar class backgrounds although Tanimaru is from Kansai while Kitaru pretends to be, by adopting its accent. This makes them friends - being young, they talk about girls. Tanimura has just broken up with one and Kitaru has a girl-friend but has to let her go: she's a uni student but he's failed the entrance exam twice, which means (at least according to him) they can't go out. So he suggests that Kitaru and Erika go out, so that he can know she's with a good guy.

Things are a bit complicated about Kitaru's academic under-achievement and his relationship with Erika: if he gets into uni, then she's his future. While he loves her, he also thinks it means life would be too easy, too comfortable - I get it, I think: he is too young to be so settled, has other things he might want to do, and uni may not even be one of them. There's another factor - he and Erika have known each other since they were infants, and he feels it would be wrong to get sexual (almost like with a sister). He, um, can't even picture her while masturbating - when Tanimura hears this, he's all "Other people's masturbation habits were beyond me."

So the three of them meet, and Erika is persuaded to go on a date with Tanimura, as a kind of "cultural exchange". They get on well but there's nothing happening - instead, she talks about Kitaru, his lack of interest in sex, and that she also wants to try something else. Obviously, they've not been able to talk honestly with each other, and an intermediary is needed to resolve things. It seems that it did, in that within a week, Kitaru has gone - there''s a kind of coda, when Tanimura catches up with Erika 16 years later, and she can say that Kitaru had flown off after a different dream. There's a strong sense that although they both had to break away from each other, it should not have been permanent.  


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