The Wind-Up Bird And Tuesday’s Women by Haruki Murakami, 1986
The magic trick:
Encouraging the reader to consider welcoming first page
If this was the first Murakami story I’d ever read – and there’s a fairly decent chance of that being the case for many people, given its leadoff spot in the order atop The Elephant Vanishes – I would be underwhelmed to the point of bafflement. This is the great Murakami I’ve heard so much about? This???!?
It’s not that “The Wind-Up Bird” is such a bad story. It’s not bad; it’s just not that good either. It’s kind of a mess, and the self-loathing isolation that Murakami spins so well into depressing hypnosis in other stories here simply feels boring and a little bit gross. There is a casual sexual menace about the protagonist here that is unsettling. Or not menace, really. It’s like a male, sexual entitlement. I don’t know, but I don’t like it. And it doesn’t feel like authorial commentary either but rather just the story’s corrupt soul.
But this isn’t the first Murakami story I’ve read, so I can tell you it draws liberally from his other work – the corridor motif, the ringing phone, the spaghetti. Some of that creates a really cool consistency. Some of it might be a shortage of ideas. I’m not sure which. It should be noted that this is a variation on the first chapter of his novel The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, which I have not read. Surely, the confusion and incomplete feeling that surrounds this story can be at least partly attributed to the dreaded “excerpt of a novel” effect.
As always, there is plenty to consider and admire with Murakami. I like the way the phone calls are placed together for the reader to compare and contrast. The protagonist talks to his wife on the phone. The protagonist talks to the mysterious woman on the phone. These are very different calls. The story never dictates its themes to the reader but invites us to analyze the phone calls and the phone callers as related entities. And that’s quite a trick on Murakami’s part.
I’m getting thirsty by now and am heading to the kitchen for some water when once more the telephone rings. Here we go again, I think. And for a moment I wonder whether I shouldn’t just ignore it and keep on going into the kitchen. But you never know, so I retrace my steps back to the living room and pick up the receiver. If it’s that woman again, I’ll say I’m in the middle of ironing and hang up.
The call, however, is from my wife. By the clock atop the TV, it’s eleven-thirty.
“How’re things?” she asks.
“Fine,” I answer, relieved.
“What’ve you been up to?”
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I do think that “the dreaded “excerpt of a novel” effect” is a real phenomenon. And I don’t like it. If a story is self-contained and can be read as an independent entity apart from the novel which contains it, shouldn’t it be “just” a short story? I guess the phenomenon has a well-established pedigree, though I still don’t have to be happy about it. 🙂 Of course, it may also just be possible I have a bias in favor of the short story form from all the years I’ve been doing the Deal Me In short story challenge.
I will say – about The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle – that it is one of my favorite novels of recent years. I think you may be on to something when you talk about the “really cool consistency” – I think that is something that repeat readers of Murakami like myself count on as part of the bang we get for our buck.