Desire is a collection of short stories which focus on our longing, “whether it takes the form of hunger, lust, sudden infatuation or the secret longings of the heart.” (Vintage Mini cover)
The first story in this small volume is entitled The Second Bakery Attack, in which a young couple wakes in the middle of the night with a hunger so intense they wonder how it can ever be satiated. While consuming a few cans of beer, which is all that is left in their refrigerator besides some butter and a few shriveled onions, the husband tells his wife of a time when he was so poor that he and a friend attacked a bakery for its bread. They were asked by the baker to listen to an album of Wagner overtures in return for all the bread they wanted, and he feels that he has subsequently lived under a curse. His wife feels the same.
”Why do you think we’re both so hungry? I never, ever, once in my life felt a hunger like this until I married you. Don’t you think it’s abnormal? Your curse is working on me, too.”
And so, they decide they must stage a second bakery attack to break the curse. They hold up a McDonald’s, which is all they can find open in Tokyo in the middle of the night, and they demand 30 Big Macs, not all of which they can eat. The hunger which was insatiable, is now strangely sated.
The second story is On Seeing the 100% Perfect Girl One April Morning. It is one of my favorite stories in this collection, perhaps in part because I feel that I understand it perfectly. It makes sense to me that a girl who is not exactly pretty, and a boy who is not particularly handsome, can find one another and know that they are exactly the ones who are meant for each other. And on some tiny, tiny idea that it’s wrong, they pass each other up. I fully believe in sad, unfulfilled love stories, and never once take them as a figment of one’s imagination such as I do with much of Murakami’s writing.
The third story is Birthday Girl, which I wrote about here.
The fourth story is Samsa in Love. The narrator has been transformed into Gregor Samsa, and is completely startled by becoming human (with an unprotected belly!). He, too, is starving and when he makes his way down seventeen stairs so that he can eat the prepared feast on the dining table, he discovers it has been quite suddenly abandoned. When the doorbell rings, he finds a hunchback woman who has come to fix a lock in the home. Samsa is attracted to her, yet knows not what to do with his human form and how it has changed when he desires her. She mistakes his attraction as being of a purely physical nature, while Samsa insists that he wants to know her. There is terror and destruction in the city surrounding his new home, but within it we sense an element of mysterious hope.
The fifth and final story in this collection is entitled A Folklore For My Generation: A Prehistory of Late-Stage Capitalism. Haruki Murakami is only 12 years older than I am, and when he writes of the 60s it is as though I have a big brother who is telling me of what is just ahead of me. I can catch what he is saying as it slips through my hand, holding enough of it to grasp the essence.
“Back in Our Age, nobody slapped down three-volume indecipherable owner’s manuals in front of you. Whatever it was we just clutched it in our hands and took it straight home – like taking a baby chick home from one of the night-time stands. Everything was simple and direct. Cause and effect were good friends back then; thesis and reality hugged each other as if it were the most natural thing in the world. And my guess is that the sixties were the last time that will ever happen.
A Prehistory of Late-Stage Capitalism – that’s my own personal name for that age.”
After this preface, the story evolves into a love story told to him by an old school classmate, someone who was good at math, and sports, and a natural leader. (“Personally, I’m not too fond of the type. For whatever reason we just don’t click. I much prefer imperfect, more memorable types of people.”) And this love story is once again a story that leaves you with an ache, a sorrow for what is lost when it could have been so much different. How is it that we come to fail each other, and yet never stop loving one another? I am crazy about Murakami’s writing for exploring these themes, yet never suggesting that he has the answer.
I have this slim volume, a truly special collection of Murakami’s work, to give away. Should you desire it, please leave a comment with the title of the story which sounds most appealing to you and why that is so. I will draw a name a week on Sunday, March 3, 2019.