Haruki Murakami: “Town of Cats”

Click here to read the story in its entirety on The New Yorker webpage.  Haruki Murakami’s “Town of Cats” was originally published in the September 5, 2011 issue of The New Yorker.

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I haven’t read this one yet.  I’m not a huge fan of Murakami’s work, so I’m not looking forward to it, which may mean delays (and I’ve been delayed much lately) getting my thoughts up.  Then again, maybe this story will help me see him a bit better.

8 thoughts on “Haruki Murakami: “Town of Cats””

  1. Betsy says:

    Trevor, three things interest me about this story. One, the situation: an old man tells his estranged son, “You’re nothing.” Conversations that children and parents have when death is near have a kind of prophetic power. When the parent is feigning dementia, or slipping knowing in and out of dementia, the situation is then further complicated. I’m curious about the son and how he will survive this, but not necessarily curious enough to read the book. This situation interests me deeply, but the fragmentary nature of the excerpt does not offer a complete reading experience.

    The second thing that interests me is that Deborah Treisman asked Murakami why the old man sheds a tear at the end of the story. Murakami answers, “It is probably not the function of an author to answer a question like that.” Exactly.

    Finally, reading an excerpt from a novel has a different imperative than reading a short story. The short story is complete. It can be considered as a whole. It is an enjoyable thing to offer it thoughtful consideration. The other is a fragment, and as such just doesn’t warrant the same attention. I think I am joining a long line of other people who think the same thing about the pleasure, or lack thereof, of reading an excerpt.

  2. Hi Trevor (and Betsy),
    I have quickly read the story – which is what an excerpt deserves, I think – and I am not very impressed. The experience would not lead me to buy the book!
    I find the writing kinda thin and sketchy precisely where I want some fullness of detail. It lacks the way sketches lack depth and color; it’s as though he’s writing with invisible ink: e.g. “For him, Sunday was like a misshapen moon that showed only its dark side.” This putative simile leaves me flat. What is left after reading it is not an image or a sensation or even a thought–rather, only the question, i.e. why the hell would he (or anybody) say that? (The dark side being precisely the side that doesn’t show!)
    Limning the characters and personality is done with a similarly crude stroke (“Luckily, his grades were outstanding, as was his athletic ability.”)that fails to convince. It is even thrown off in the same tone as one would an outright lie. (Later we hear that the boy is a math wiz: I could see that abstract generalization coming a mile away.)

    Situations of historical, cultural or narrative credibility are not more convincingly handled: viz. “Sometimes stray dogs were all they had to eat.” This doesn’t ring truly or convincingly and only goes to further distance the narrator from this reader. I don’t buy it. Period.

    Some aspects of the narrative are simply laughable. For example:
    In his only memory of her, he was a year and a
    half old and she was standing by his crib in the
    arms of a man other than his father. . . Tengo
    slept beside them, his breathing audible. But, at
    the same time,he was not asleep. He was watching
    his mother.
    Noone, outside of literature classrooms or over 16 is going to believe this. (Have you ever witnessed the behavior and attention of a child of 1 1/2?) It is psychologically disingenuous and utterly silly.

    As bad a premise as that is, it does give rise to at least one moment of good writing:
    His father, however, had no idea that this vivid
    scene existed in Tengo’s memory, or that, like a
    cow in a meadow, Tengo was endlessly regurgitating
    fragments of it to chew on, a cud from which he
    obtained essential nutrients. Father and son: each
    was locked in a deep, dark embrace with his own
    secrets.
    Of course, we are still left to wonder how such an image could mean anything to the child, never-mind become an object of fixation and secrecy.

    Haruki is writing a novel, I know, and some details are rendered sketchily for brevity’s sake–but is that a reason for bad writing and improbable story-lines? If this a piece of fantasy fiction, or graphic novel exuberance, I think they should give some hint. These characters are cartoons, really, in an improbable setting with only an eery strangeness to recommend them. In the end, I am far more curious about the author’s credentials and intent than about the characters and their secrets.
    That can’t be a good thing!

  3. Shelley says:

    My little dog is eager to read this one….

  4. Nivedita says:

    My views on Murakami sort of agree with yours. I had read the ‘Blind Willow Sleeping Woman’ before and can’t say I was very thrilled about it. Will love to read your review on this one before attempting to read it myself :)

  5. Ken says:

    I actually like his stories usually. This one is very clumsy (as noted above) and the epiphany with his dad clusmily fits into the (admittedly in its own right quite clever) story about the “Town of Cats” in a rather cheaply metaphoric way. I was, though, rather moved and touched by the story nevertheless and I do like much of his writing here. The passage about the difference between studying math with its clear answers and literature, which is more allusive and posits possible solutions to problems one can take into the real world, was the highlight.

  6. Tim says:

    I really love Murakami’s work, but have been struck by the repetitiveness of his writing. Overall, this piece was disappointing. I’ll still read the IQ84, but this excerpt is one to skip. You can read more here http://timlepczyk.com/2011/09/01/excerpt-town-of-cats-haruki-murakami.html.

  7. william says:

    i was pleased to see that other people also find excerpts unsatisfying. i think that, in any issue in which the New Yorker publishes a novel excerpt, they should also publish a true short story.

  8. Isabel says:

    I also think that the year old’s memories are impossible. I just finished reading an article in People Magazine about children of 9/11 deceased. The children who were 2 to 4 at the time of death of the parent really don’t remember the parent, even though there are photographs and video of the kids with the parent.

    The rest of the story is probable. I enjoyed the part when the son tells the dad about the novel of the town of the cats. Creepy.

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