Ninety years ago, Ernest Hemingway published “Men Without Women,” his short story collection that includes “The Killers.” That seminal story only hints at why the titular killers are after boxer Ole Andreson, creating an atmosphere of hopeless dread through scene and character interaction. The only insight Ole gives the reader is, “I got in wrong.” He’s going to die, but neither he nor Papa need to explain all that to us.
Haruki Murakami also titled his latest collection of stories “Men Without Women,” but too often he does not share Hemingway’s faith in omission — or the reader. Repetition mars several of these seven stories. More frustrating is Murakami’s need to tell the reader, quite literally, what conclusions to draw.
In “Drive My Car,” an aging actor hires a chauffeur after an accident caused by “a trace of glaucoma ... a blind spot.”
Later, he tells his deceased wife’s ex-lover (all but one of these stories feature cheating women) that he didn’t really know his wife, saying he “had what amounted to a fatal blind spot.” It’s a metaphor, get it? (If not, the ex-lover echoes the words “blind spot” in the next line.)
The apotheosis, or nadir, of these shortcomings arrives in “An Independent Organ,” about a doctor, Tokai, who falls in love with a married woman. When she leaves him, and her husband, to run off with a third man, Tokai starves himself to death. The kicker comes with the revelation that the doctor believes that “women are all born with a special, independent organ that allows them to lie.”
Thankfully, there is “Kino,” which ticks off all the boxes for Murakami magic: a lost young man; jazz records, played in a sleepy bar; a stray cat, with possibly supernatural powers; and a mysterious woman, who while not fully developed characterwise, at least has a part to play. One is left wishing Murakami had written more about Kino’s world and left the “Men Without Women” to Hemingway.