For Murakami, the process of thinking is what matters, and in this collection of seven stories Murakami wants us to consider the paradoxical interrelatedness of love and loneliness, specifically, how certain men become 'Men Without Women' ... Time and again in these seven stories, Murakami displays his singular genius...when he manages to find a concrete image for human emotion ... The stories in this collection find their power within the confines of common but momentous disturbances that linger on in memory.
Many of the stories hover between realism and surreal dreamscape. And Murakami’s voice — cool, poised, witty, characterized by a peculiar blend of whimsy and poignancy, wit and profundity — hasn’t lost its power to unsettle even as it amuses ... Even the married men exist in their own private bubbles of disquiet and despair. Deep isolation pervades each story ... The men of these stories are trying to have it both ways. It is not surprising therefore that they find themselves caught in the middle of nowhere. Murakami’s imagination is the luminous half-light of that common, contradictory country.
The melancholy soufflé Murakami whips up in these pages is decidedly masculine, a rainy Tokyo of unfaithful women, neat single malt, stray cats, cool cars and classic jazz played on hi-fi setup ... Like such philosophically head-scratching aphorisms, these stories — part allegory, part myth, part magic realism, part Philip Marlowe, private eye — are sometimes confusing even to those who narrate them ... [a] slim but beguilingly irresistible book. Like a lost lover, it holds on tight long after the affair is over.
In each of these stories, male desire is glorified under the guise of existential loneliness, and the women's function is reduced to that of potential saviors. Not surprisingly, the female characters in this collection are never fully realized ... a motif that undermines this entire collection, one in which unrestrained male lust is glorified under the guise of existential loneliness and female characters serve as mere vehicles for the fulfillment or denial of male longing.
There’s a dialled-down quality to these men. Their exchanges with other people are limited to bedrooms and bars. They have one eccentricity each: they care about reading or cooking or the history of popular music. Murakami Man, we begin to see, has no friends because, in the pursuit of convenience and emotional self-protection, in proofing himself against grief, he chose distance ... Murakami never tells it until he’s ready, and that may take pages of careful preparation. He’s as fascinated as his specimens by the complex layers of social geology in which they’re to be found embedded, so that’s where he begins. It’s up to the reader to work out why ... Tale by tale, the different women – unassuaged, and who can blame them – move off to the peripheries. The men apologise for themselves and are content to drift, remaining puzzled as much by their own behaviour as anyone else’s. Their stories are never less than readable, comic, amiably fantastic, human, yet with an entertainingly sarcastic edge, but verge on the bland.
Detached from their feelings and missing pieces of themselves, Murakami’s lonely souls struggle to understand what’s hit them. Unexpected connections with strangers shed light, though the illumination is often indirect or partial ... The thematically connected tales in Men Without Women are generally more developed, more realistic and more sentimental than the surreal stories in Murakami’s 2006 collection, Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman ... As the members of Murakami’s lonely hearts club band discover in these affecting stories, life, however baffling, is better shared.
...a whimsical delight ... Despite so much seeming to be the same, rather than familiarity breeding contempt, Murakami always manages to entertain, surprise, and satisfy ... If Murakami is in the (repeating) details, then such details are what make his writing so identifiably unique.
Murakami writes of complex things with his usual beguiling simplicity — the same seeming naivety found in the Beatles songs that are so often his reference points. The stories read like dirges for 'all the lonely people' but they are strangely invigorating to read. The only straightforwardly happy story is an imaginative inversion of Franz Kafka’s Metamorphosis, in which a beetle-like insect wakes up, turned into a man...It is Murakami at his whimsical, romantic best, and however beautifully rendered the loneliness in the rest of the collection, one wishes, in the end, for a little bit more of this.
...whilst I wish I could tell you their haunting quality makes up for their wanting quantity, so many of said struck me as uneventful retreads that I can only recommend this collection with a planter of caveats ... alas, most of these stories are inescapably bland: repetitive and rambling accounts of the unremarkable that round the same sorts of scenarios and characters again and again, only to end utterly abruptly just as Murakami finally makes his presence felt ... Though it has its Murakami moments—a few fragrant flowers struggling to push through the kudzu, if you’ll permit me to fiddle with the author’s own imagery—Men Without Women feels to this reader like a garden in desperate need of weeding.
The stories mostly take place in Tokyo's noodle shops and cheap bars. Yet despite the forlorn situations and the dreary settings, the best of these stories hold the excitement of a quest: These odd episodes of awakening desire show men startled into an awareness of how they have shorted themselves on life ... Some of the stories are slight...The best stories, though, pry open the impassive surfaces of human behavior to reveal 'the bloody weight of desire and the rusty anchor of remorse.'
Men Without Women has the familiar signposts and well-worn barstools that will reconnect with longtime readers of Murakami: magical realism, Beatles tracks and glasses of whiskey. Yet, except for a few tales, the magic is watered down and it’s reality that is now poured stiff ... This collection is a sober, clear-eyed attempt to observe the evasion and confrontation of suffering and loss, and to hope for something better. It’s a worthwhile stopgap to hold Murakami’s international fanbase over till the next release.
Moody and melancholic as this collection’s stories can be, some of them offer comparable hope that these men without women might emerge from their long and isolating loneliness, acknowledging the hurt, pain and even rage they feel rather than folding in on themselves and ceasing to fully live ... That recognition of time’s passage necessarily includes an acceptance of loss; 'from the instant you meet' a new woman, one narrator muses, 'you start thinking about losing her.' Every love ends in rupture or death. But as these wise stories suggest, that’s no reason to avoid living.