"Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman" is a career spanning collection that includes two of the first short stories Murakami wrote twenty-five years ago, through to stories published last year. In this collection we get both the surreal, with stories of talking monkeys and of icemen who date Japanese women, and the very real, with stories about everyday people dealing with cancer, sexuality and the loss of their children.
At their best these stories - nine of them having been published in the "New Yorker" - like Murakami's strongest novels they sink deep within the reader's psyche. His stories have the power to make you dream differently. How Murakami does this may seem beguiling. The secret, I believe, is in the balancing. Murakami grounds the surreal stories in the mundane while managing to bask the realistic stories in an other-worldly glow. In 'The Iceman' the main character meets the iceman, her future lover, in the lobby of a ski resort. There the iceman is, just reading a book. Ho-hum. Nothing to see here. While in the short story 'Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman,' on the other hand, Murakami turns a simple bus ride through the woods into a moment out of a dream. The story begins, "When I closed my eyes the scent of the wind wafted up towards me." The narrator compares the May wind coming through the bus window to the breaking open of a fruit. "The flesh split open in mid-air, spraying seeds like gentle buckshot into the bare skin of my arms, leaving behind a faint trace of pain."
To slip into Murakami's world, to get into his stories, never feels like work and the trick, again, is in the balance. In an era of not knowing how to slow down, Murakami's stories never feel rushed. There is always a slow easiness to them no matter how heavy the topic, death and loss being common themes. And though the stories never feel overly dark or depressing, rarely do we get serenity without a sense of its exact opposite. In 'Man Eating Cats,' a Japanese couple lives the perfect life on a Greek island. Each day is spent eating the simplest foods, drinking wine and making love. What the narrator describes as "the most peaceful time" in his whole life doesn't last. The narrator's girlfriend goes missing, the story ends and we're left with no indication where she went or that she will ever be found.
Like most Murakami fiction the "point" of these stories is not always clear. Readers looking for straight narratives with lesson-drawing endings may feel frustrated, like they don't "get it". The stories are more for those who can relate when a character in 'A Poor Aunt Story' says, "For some reason, things that grabbed me were things I didn't understand."
Although some of Murakami's earlier stories aren't quite as successful as the nine stories published in "The New Yorker" what is clear is that most of the twenty-five stories in this collection linger in the mind like lucid dreams, carrying you along like a gentle breeze while containing enough weight to resonate.
-Bookworm, Movie Nerd