Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman by Haruki Murakami, 1983
The magic trick:
Handing the reader a handful of beautiful loose threads
There are times when you find a writer and say, Now that’s a writer who talks to me like I want to be talked to. Murakami is that writer for me right now. This highly stylized, bizarre, often surreal form of storytelling reflects reality a lot better to me than a lot of writers straight attempts at realism. This is how life really works. People tell stories to each other; memories drift in and out of focus; one thing leads to another and another. I love it.
I struggle with a story this rich to cram it into my flimsy format on the blog. There is so much here to consider. Murakami throws out so many symbols and metaphors, and he leaves so many loose ends. It’s a wondrous bunch of thoughts to assemble in the reader’s mind by story’s end.
I’ll highlight one untied thread. In the beginning of the story, on the bus, the narrator is talking with his cousin, who asks about high school. The narrator says he enjoyed his friends in school but doesn’t see them anymore. Why not? The narrator claims it’s because they live far apart now, but then admits to the reader that he’s lying. The story never revisits this, never verifies it. It’s certainly something to consider, though, when we try to solve the mystery of the blind willow, sleeping woman story that arises later on.
I suspect something awful has happened. I think the narrator’s high school friend and girlfriend are both dead, probably through violence. We know the boy is dead. We know the narrator doesn’t see his friends anymore. We know he doesn’t want to live at home and hasn’t been here for awhile.
It’s powerful, powerful stuff. The notion of disclosing some details and holding back on presenting the complete picture certainly isn’t a unique strategy in literature. I just think this author might be the very best at playing that game. And that’s quite a trick on Murakami’s part.
I remembered now how that summer she’d written a long poem about the blind willow and explained it all to us. That was the only homework assignment she did that summer. She made up a story based on a dream she’d had one night, and as she lay in bed for a week she wrote this long poem. My friend said he wanted to read it, but she was still revising it, so she turned him down; instead, she drew those pictures and summarized the plot.
A young man climbed up the hill to rescue the woman the blind- willow pollen had put to sleep.
“That’s got to be me,” my friend said.
She shook her head. “No, it isn’t you.”
“You sure?” he asked.
“I’m sure,” she said, a fairly serious look on her face. “I don’t know why I know that. But I do. You’re not angry, are you?”
“You bet I am,” my friend frowned, half joking.
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