The Elephant Vanishes – Murakami

Stretched out on the back seat, long and stiff as a dead fish, was a Remington automatic shotgun, Its shells rustled dryly in the pocket of my wife’s windbreaker. We had two black ski masks in the glove compartment. Why my wife owned a shotgun, I had no idea. Or ski masks. Neither of us had ever skied. But she didn’t explain and I didn’t ask. Married life is weird, I felt.

Oh Murakami. You are either a genius, or crazy. Or both.
By the time I normally climb out of Murakami’s world into the normal one, I have a lingering sense of pleasant bewilderedness. I have no idea what’s just happened but I know I enjoyed it. But The Elephant Vanishes caught me in a kink, I was bewildered alright, but it was less pleasant.

As with Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman, there is nestled in the collection a germ of one of his novels, the self evident The Wind-up bird and Tuesday’s Woman, which kicked my memory a bit to recall the novel. The short story, the first in the collection highlights how well Murakami can make everyday life seem so much more weird when it’s given the slightest twist.

The range of stories ranges from the complete left-field, see The Kangaroo Communique, possibly the weirdest short story I have ever read, definitely the weirdest Murakami, where you keep reading, thinking, what is going on? to the wonderful On Seeing the 100% Perfect Girl One Beautiful April Morning, I loved this, found it very sad, but somehow uplifting at the same time, a story for all the moments when you wished you had said something.

But what I will remember from this collection is the darkness, the borderline horror that I don’t remember really seeing elsewhere in his work.  Sleep begins as a normal Murakami short story, but ends violently and abruptly, so that you are still thinking about it as you move on. Barn Burning is seemingly normal, but has a dark undercurrent, the same as TV People, both of which reminded me of a Japanese horror film, the endings sinking in with a sinister force. It was The Dancing Dwarf that seemed the most classic horror story, but transported into almost a completely different dimension, as if setting it in his own alternate reality would make it seem normal, by placing it somewhere else Murakami is saying, look, I can create a completely different world too, and look how scary that would be..

It is not a collection of horror stories by any means, Murakami just takes a slight twist to alter the flavour of the story, which in some instances seemed to give them a much darker edge. This is there in his novels as well, but seem that much more potent when it’s compacted. There are still the students, the bored housewives, everyone smoking, even after they’ve given up, the ever appearing Noboru Watanabe, the myriad of music tastes and scotch drinkers, all inhabiting Murakami’s Tokyo that’s not quite in this reality but still draws me in every time. Think I’ll go and boil some water for spaghetti and make myself a coffee.

Granted, most of my memories don’t bear dates anyway. My recall is a damn sight short of total. It’s so unreliable that I sometimes think I’m trying to prove something by it. But what would I be proving? Especially since inexactness is not exactly the sort of thing you can prove with any accuracy.

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