Monday, August 12, 2013

Murakami's The Elephant Vanishes

The Elephant VanishesThe Elephant Vanishes by Haruki Murakami
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Murakami manages to keep the mind riveted in ways that I don't even fully understand. If most of these stories were pitched to me as an editor, I'd think they were somewhere between banal and stupidly fanciful in the way of a story that a seven year-old might tell. But in his hands, they're transfixing. They'd be transfiguring as well, except that sometimes he leaves you with so little to hold on to at the end of a piece that you're left just with a feeling like "what just happened?"

But then you come back to it a month or ten later and realize that it was transfiguring, and that oftentimes we are the last to know, when it comes to our own change. It is just more subtle than, say, an acid trip, which might grab your head and force you to look at what you'd rather not.

As a writer, I had long thought that the central method of the short story was the revealing, twist ending. "Everything was not as it seemed, but here's the big reveal." I'm happy I've had that illusion dispelled. In fact, with most of these stories, it's quite the opposite. Everything is not as you think it is, but you're left not with a revelation but rather a haunting feeling that won't go away. The depth of our uncertainty is itself unfathomable.

That is, maybe, one of the central themes in much of my own work, but it was only made clear when I had a mirror that let me "see around corners," in Jung's terms. That may seem like a leap for some, but you'll find that a Jungian reading of symbols is relevant for much of Murakami's surrealist ("magical") realism, as is discussed somewhat directly in his book Kafka On The Shore.

The bottom line is that if you are looking for a fascinating, troubling,
deep look at banal reality, this is a great opportunity for it.

View all my reviews

Read a translation online of one of my favorite short stories from this collection, Sleep.

[Take a Trip with us... Mythos Media.]

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