‘Barn Burning’ by Haruki Murakami, translated by Philip Gabriel

I sometimes get a bit bored of all the men lying around on sofas, drinking beer, thinking about baseball and listening to Jazz, and I don’t like to mix mediums (I did it again, sorry) but Wong Kar-wai just does a better job of showing boredom and crisis mixing into one. Murakami’s stories, however, are unique in how they flit around between seemingly random events, like dogs getting distracted by squirrels, and manage to draw them together into gold. 
 
There is a successful and married writer who meets a flighty younger woman at a wedding party. Despite having nothing to talk about they have something of an emotional affair, then the girl goes away to North Africa. When she returns to Japan three months later the writer meets her at the airport, she’s transformed and has her new lover in toe. He learns that the lover is rich and cares for nothing, and his favourite pastime is burning barns—a glimmer of recognition flares between the two. 
 
The writer takes to running and looking for the charred remains yet, being independently wealthy himself—similar to the lover—can’t see them. There is something of exploitation in the images of barns burning in the night, some needless destruction against a lower class, and both men seem to forget about the woman who’s future they have also set to flame. Murakami’s men come across as quirky fools, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be creeps. 

First published in The New Yorker, 1983, and available for subscribers to read here. Collected – in a different translation – in The Elephant Vanishes, Harvill Press, 2001

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