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A daily record of what I'm thinking about what I'm reading

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Friday, October 10, 2014

Bad Bet by New Yorker: Murakami did not win the Nobel Prize

While the NYTBR goes all-in on Hilary Mantel - not just publication of the title story in her new collection spanning several pp of last week's review in what may be a unique event but this week a lengthy and intelligent cover review with not one but two NYT color photos - the New Yorker places its chips on Haruki Murakami: you have to believe their decision to publish his story Scheherazade in the current issue was a bet that he'd be awarded the Nobel this week, right? Well, that didn't pan out - and to be honest neither did this story. The New Yorker has been one of the main ways in which HM ha found an international readership, so they have some bragging rights here, but it seems to me that as his fame has risen his talent has attenuated, and this story's an example of that: about a man and a woman whose relationship is somewhat like that of the legendary Scheh. from 1k&1 nights: she comes to him twice a week, they have sex, and she tells him a story. Other writers - notably John Barth - have been drawn to this motif of template - but to make it work you need both to be faithful to the original and you need a twist: Barth had the great idea of narrating the stories from the POV of Sh's kid sister, Dunyazade or something like that, who slept at the foot of the bed. And what's key to the entire legend is that the prince was going to execute Sh - I think he wanted a new woman each night or some such nonsense - but she would tell a story and hold back on the ending, earning her another day and night of living, through her narrative talent - so you can see why writers are drawn to this motif. Murakami picks up on none of this: the stories the woman tells are bland and uninteresting. And what is their relationship; why is she there? We never know. The man never leaves his house, seems in some ways to be a man under house arrest, but this is never made clear. She visits him as a maid or nurse and seems to be having sex w/ him as part of a professional obligation - but that's not clear, either, leaving this story in among the man male fantasies of women servicing the needs of dominant men without any reciprocity and without any demands of their own; in fact, the NYer recently ran a story on that model (which in turn was "modeled" if not plagiarized from a much better story by Alice Munro). Murakami is famous for his ambiguity and allusiveness (and elusiveness as well), but that only gets you so far: the story itself needs to be strange, evocative, and just on or slightly beyond the reach of the credible. This one falls short.

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