A writing lesson I’ve taken from Murakami is that of withholding—not playing coy, but allowing certain mysteries in a story to remain so. I read this in a class taught by Samantha Hunt called “Surrounding the Ghost,” in which we explored the use of seemingly unrelated events to write the unwriteable. ‘UFO in Kushiro’ contains a literal mystery box, one that protagonist Komura is asked by a colleague to hand-deliver to a woman in a town in Hokkaido. At the same time as he carries this package, whose contents we never discover, Komura tries to come to terms with a larger mystery. In the wake of the 1995 Kobe earthquake, his wife abruptly left him. In her goodbye note, she wrote, “you have nothing inside you that you can give me. You are good and kind and handsome, but living with you is like living with a chunk of air.”
The recipient of the package, a young woman, tells Komura a story about a UFO sighting and another wife who left her husband following this inexplicable event. “I wonder if things like that aren’t connected somehow,” she muses. But the deepest mystery of this story, to me, is not the box, the missing wife (that Murakami standby), or the UFO. It’s the fleeting moment, toward the end, when Komura suddenly finds himself “on the verge of committing an act of incredible violence.” That act is not realized —but what was the passing impulse? Where did it come from inside him, that supposedly empty place?
First published in The New Yorker, March 19, 2001, and available to subscribers to read here. Collected in After the Quake, Vintage, 2003