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Murakami's 12th work of fiction is darkly entertaining and more novella than novel. Taking place over seven hours of a Tokyo night, it intercuts three loosely related stories, linked by Murakami's signature magical-realist absurd coincidences. When amateur trombonist and soon-to-be law student Tetsuya Takahashi walks into a late-night Denny's, he espies Mari Asai, 19, sitting by herself, and proceeds to talk himself back into her acquaintance. Tetsuya was once interested in plain Mari's gorgeous older sister, Eri, whom he courted, sort of, two summers previously. Murakami then cuts to Eri, asleep in what turns out to be some sort of menacing netherworld. Tetsuya leaves for overnight band practice, but soon a large, 30ish woman, Kaoru, comes into Denny's asking for Mari: Mari speaks Chinese, and Kaoru needs to speak to the Chinese prostitute who has just been badly beaten up in the nearby "love hotel" Kaoru manages. Murakami's omniscient looks at the lives of the sleeping Eri and the prostitute's assailant, a salaryman named Shirakawa, are sheer padding, but the probing, wonderfully improvisational dialogues Mari has with Tetsuya, Kaoru and a hotel worker named Korogi sustain the book until the ambiguous, mostly upbeat dénouement. (May)
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Murakami's celebrated oeuvre falls into two easily distinguished categories: there are the broad-canvas epics (The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, 1997, for example), which meld genres, distort reality, and posit alternate worlds with abandon but do it all on the crest of an almost Dickensian tidal wave of story. And there are the small-scale, disarmingly intimate, almost tactile short novels (Sputnik Sweetheart, 2001, among others), jewel-like examinations of loneliness and secret selves. His latest effort falls into the second camp: the action takes place during one long Tokyo night, from midnight to dawn, and centers on two sisters, one, Eri, a fashion model, does nothing but sleep (though she may or may not drift between worlds in the process); her college-student sister, Mari, on the other hand, refuses to sleep, spending the night first drinking coffee in a Denny's and then in a series of encounters with an ever-more-strange group of night people, ranging from an introspective jazz musician to a Chinese prostitute, to the earth-motherish proprietor of a "love hotel." The narrative flows like a jazz ballad, excruciatingly slow yet hypnotically entrancing ("Time moves in its own way in the middle of the night," opines a bartender. "You can't fight it"). Each character is unique in his or her form of loneliness, yet each possesses a capacity for momentary empathy that is both sweet and heartbreaking. Murakami's genius, on both large and small canvases, is to create worlds both utterly alien and disconcertingly familiar. Bill Ott
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an alternate Hardcover edition.