It seems I’ve been on a first-person kick lately. Despite the similarity in titles, Haruki Murakami’s First Person Singular is a very different collection of short stories than the last one I last read. In First Person Peculiar, the focus was strictly on speculative and science-fiction. Murakami’s stories are more in the vein of magic realism where ordinary people can experience out-of-the-ordinary situations. Nothing too strange or disturbing, but odd enough to get one’s attention.
If I haven’t mentioned it previously, Murakami is one of my favorite authors. I’ve read several of his novels and many of his short stories and none of them have disappointed me. I always find something of interest in his works, whether it be an offbeat character quirk, a relatable emotional situation, or maybe just the way he writes. Unfortunately, I can only talk about the English translations of his works, but for what it’s worth, my desire to read him in his native language has inspired me to try to learn Japanese.
And that’s really what I get from reading Murakami – inspiration. The effect is similar to when I read Raymond Carver. Afterwards I have these conflicting feelings that I could never write this well, but I really want to try and be as accomplished of a storyteller. The struggle is real.
First Person Singular is a collection of eight stories that took me on an interesting journey into Japanese culture and people. But more than that, they are relatable stories about relationships, about discovery, and about classical music, rock and jazz. Murakami seems to enjoy mentioning his favorite musicians, bands, and composers, weaving them into his stories in very interesting ways.
For example, one of my favorites from this collection is titled, “Charlie Parker Pays Bossa Nova”. For what it’s worth, Parker didn’t play Bossa Nova, nor did he ever record an album in that genre. That doesn’t stop Murakami from making that a point in this story. Basically, a young man makes up a fake album review for a college publication and no one ever questions the validity of it. Years later, however, he discovers the imaginary album in a record store. Did he actually make it up or is it real? Did he will it into being or is he just imagining things?
That’s what I love about Murakami’s stories. They always balance on the line between what’s real and what’s illusion. Another great entry in this collection is “Confessions of a Shinagawa Monkey.” In this story, a traveler arrives in a remote village late in the evening and finds the only available room in a run-down inn. As he’s relaxing in a hot tub, a monkey walks in, asks him how things are going, and later brings him a beer. The monkey tells the traveler his story, and later the man has to decide if this interaction actually occurred.
In my humble opinion, Murakami is an amazing storyteller. His stories may begin simply enough, but without fail, there is always some element of magic realism happening. His characters often find themselves in interesting or unusual situations, experiencing strange encounters or stepping into situations that are just outside the ordinary.
In a way, this isn’t too far removed from our real lives. We all go about our days as we always do, follow our routines, and connect the dots. But there are those strange days when something out of the ordinary happens and we have to pause and consider where we are and who we are.
First Person Singular is a fun collection of stories, and really, a quick read at only 245 pages. If you’re looking for something a little different, yet still relatable, pick up a copy.