Featured in today’s The New Yorker, Scheherazade is a scintillating example of the peculiar and fanciful imagination of its author, Japan’s preeminent peddler of fictive absurdities, and possible contender for this year’s Nobel Prize being announced tomorrow, Haruki Murakami.
The other thing that puzzled him was the fact that their lovemaking and her storytelling were so closely linked, making it hard to tell where one ended and the other began. He had never experienced anything like this before: although he didn’t love her, and the sex was so-so, he was tightly bound to her physically. It was all rather confusing.
As ever Murakami’s unadorned prose surprises in all the best ways. The characters, in this case a Mr. Habara, 31 and housebound, though we are never quite sure why, and his caretaker/contracted lover, a 35-year-old housewife whom he dubs Scheherazade for her penchant, much like that fabled queen from ‘A Thousand and One Nights’, for spinning fantastical yarns post coitus. The casual manner in which these characters pivot the story in unexpected directions is the real beauty of reading Murakami. In the hands of a master like this, the reader never quite knows what might be coming, but always senses, as one who has been repeatedly struck by lightning, that the air is charged for another bolt.
I’m not sure how exactly I stumbled onto this story, but I am thankful I did. Invasive Species, winner of the New Millennium Writings Awards #32, is one of those quiet, unassuming stories that, with each perfect sentence, slowly wends its way into your soul.
The late afternoon sun makes her pale, hairless scalp appear practically translucent, exposing the latticework of slender blood vessels that carry the metastases through her body like a miniature plumbing system.
I’ve been on somewhat of a binge diet of short stories lately, consuming a few collections a week on average, as well as nibbling from the sundry literary journals floating around the house. The idea was to keep my reading sessions brief and uninvolved in order to maintain focus on my own novel, while at the same time absorbing and learning new styles and voices from writers of the highest caliber. But as I’ve progressed in my reading (everything from the classics – Gogol, Chekhov, Hemingway – to highly lauded contemporary collections – George Saunders, Karen Russell) I’ve stumbled upon some astonishingly brilliant, profound, mesmerizing stories that pack more punch in 20 pages than many novels do in 200. Some of these have left me awestruck, dizzied, unspeakably jealous. They’re too good not to share, to shout from the rooftops, “Read them! Read them! It takes less time than a rerun of Seinfeld!”
So in this new section, The Short Story Spotlight, I will do just that. No in-depth reviews – I don’t want to spoil these babies. Part of the magic of a great short story is that it sneaks up on you, often being buried in a collection without a blurb of its own or appearing in a journal without fanfare or press.