Monday, November 22, 2021

Review of First Person Singular by Haruki Murakami

I'm always a bit skeptical when hearing of a writer attempting to work within the realms of both fiction and non-fiction together. Have they reached the end of their creative rope and are now desperate for material? Has fame gone to their head and ego now part of their fiction? Such are the worries I have. Ultimately, writers are creative people, and in the case of Haruki Murakami's semi-autobiographical collection of short stories, First Person Singular (2021), my concerns were mislaid.

That being said, the title is appropriate. All of the stories are first person, and though never explicitly stated, Murakami is the viewpoint of each. Comparing them to Murakami's profile, and a number of similarities pop out: classical music, reading/writing, jazz, place of birth, etc. I will not spoil everything, but suffice at saying the stories are definitively not all autobiographical, however. A few things occur in the stories, letting the reader know that things have been dressed up a little. But where, the reader never knows. Thus, all that follows is ostensibly Murakami, but certainly more.

Cream” is Murakami looking back to his youth and an invitation he received from a former female acquaintance to attend a piano recital. The invitation peculiar, what awaits Murakami at the recital is certainly unexpected. “With the Beatles” indicates Murakami may have a problem with appointments, but it certainly leads to interesting situations. In this story, the author recalls his first real girlfriend and a date they set to meet at her house one Sunday morning. Perhaps catharsis for Murakami given what the future holds for the pair, one never knows. Spinning things surreal, as well as destroying any notion the collection is truly autobiographical, “Confessions of a Shinagawa Monkey” lives up to its name in a remote hot springs hotel. The guilty action not as malevolent as one might think, it seems monkeys have souls, also.

Another common thread of the collection is the attractiveness of women, and in “Carnaval” Murakami tells of meeting an ugly lady whose interest in classical music is as strong as his own. Their tastes similar also, the two kick it off. But only for a short time, as something unexpected pops up. Each of us has some special little something that we keep tucked away in a drawer or box—a one-of-a-kind thing that is irreplaceable. In “On a Stone Pillow”, Murakami tells the story of how he came to accidentally possess one such item.

Poetry and baseball not something one considers bedfellows, in “The Yakult Swallows Poetry Collection” the reader is treated to Murakami's musings brought about by lazy afternoons at the baseball stadium (as well as a brief history of the Swallows' team history). There are those rare moments in life when we think we encounter something, and later go back to check to make sure it still exists, only for it to be issing. “Charlie Parker Plays Bossa Nova” is Murakami's recollection of his first ever published story, a fictional review of a non-existent Charlie Parker album, and a strange encounter he has one day. The most peculiar story in the collection, “First Person Singular” tells of an experience Murakami has in a bar one day after deciding to put on a suit and tie and go out for a beer. A social interaction that is not so strange as to be impossible, it nevertheless stretches what a person would consider an average experience.

In the end, First Person Singular is a better collection than it it's bare bones premise would have it be. Murakami effortlessly generates interest in what would likely be categorized trivial events in a person's life. An afternoon talking with a girlfriend's brother, a day at a bar, watching a baseball game, a concert date--these and other quotidian scenes ehlp form the stories, but undoubtedly Murakami's straight-forward, entertaining voice generates the interest.

The following are the eight stories contained in First Person Singular:


With the Beatles

Confessions of a Shinagawa Monkey


On a Stone Pillow

Charlie Parker Plays Bossa Nova

The Yakult Swallows Poetry Collection

First Person Singular

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