by Haruki Murakami
translated from the Japanese by Philip Gabriel
from the January 28, 2019 issue of The New Yorker

I still haven’t read a novel by the immensely popular Haruki Murakami, and that’s because I’ve never been particularly fond of the short fiction I’ve read in The New Yorker. Part of me thinks I should finally give a novel a try, because so many trusted friends faithfully read his new novels the moment they arrive in English, regardless of how they felt about the last one. So . . . if you have any recommendations, let me know.

And so it is with renewed vigor that I approach “Cream” and have already enjoyed the first little bit. As it begins, we meet an older narrator who jumps right into telling us about telling someone else a story with no clear resolution.

So I’m telling a younger friend of mine about a strange incident that took place back when I was eighteen. I don’t recall exactly why I brought it up. It just happened to come up as we were talking. I mean, it was something that happened long ago. Ancient history. On top of which, I was never able to reach any conclusion about it.

This pulled me in. What is held within that ancient history that still resonates such that it emerges in a stray conversation? And why is the narrator now telling us about telling this to his friend?

I don’t necessarily have faith that these questions will be clearly answered in the story. I mean, look at Murakami’s interview with Deborah Treisman (here). She asks him point blank about his framing device and why he chose it. Here is his answer: “I’m not sure. I probably thought that it was better to have the story told retrospectively, rather than in the voice of a teen-ager.”

He appears to be going with his gut here, exploring the unexplainable, the unknowable, and how that affects us, acknowledging that “[s]ometimes asking the right question is better than getting the right answer.”

Many of us wonder, when we see a story from a famous novelist in The New Yorker whether that story is an excerpt. And, speaking of going with his gut, it doesn’t appear Murakami knows either. When Treisman asks him if the story is a series or from a new collection, Murakmi answers playfully: “I hadn’t thought about it, but, now that you mention it, I could see possibly making it into a series (or a full-length novel). Thank you for the suggestion!”

So I’m interested. I’m open, I hope, to the magic of Murakami in a way I might not have been before. I’m going to finish the story later today and see where it leaves me. In the meantime, please feel free to share your thoughts below. And, if you have a Murakami novel you recommend I start with, please let me know!

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