John Hersey vs. Haruki Murakami

hershey murakamiFor this round of the Deal-Me-In Short Story Challenge I drew John Hersey’s “To the End of the American Dream” and Haruki Murakami’s  “Man-Eating Cats.”  At the risk of making this a Haruki Murakami week I decided to go with what the cards dealt and give him another go, even though I just finished his new book.  Scroll down for the review.

The title held out the promise of magical cats after all.

I’ve been linking the two stories I draw each round I do this challenge, just to give my posts a little something extra.  This time  both stories are set on islands which is an obivious bit of luck.  Both are also linked by the overall sense of other-worldliness you get when on an extended vacation.  Though both feature characters who more-or-less live on the island, both are outsiders, people who don’t mean to stay forever.

Hersey’s story features Earnest Heminway which comes as no surprise really.  Since the story is in a volume called Key West Tales,  Hemingway was bound to show up sooner or later.  “To the End of the American Dream” is a collection of vignettes, sort of eye-witness accounts Key West Natives might come up with about that time I ran into Hemingway and what we did together.  It’s entertaining enough, but Murakami’s is the better story.

“Man-Eating Cats” is about two lovers who have run-away to a small Greek island.  Each of them never intended for their affair to go this far, but when their spouses accidently found out they were being cheated on, they two main characters had little choice but to leave Japan. They have enough money between them to live on the island for three years if they are careful.  Neither of them really wanted to spend the rest of their lives together, just to have an affair for a while.  But now neither really wants to go back to Japan.

Murakami’s story has that air of being somewhere but being nowhere that I talked about yesterday in my review of Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and his Years of Pilgrimage. It’s like being in an train station or in an airport.  You’re in a place, but you’re not really in they place.  The couple are on the island but they are not really part of the community, part of the island.  They are just passing through; the way they really meant to be passing through each other’s lives.

It’s an interesting idea and an interesting short story.

There is something of this same air in John Hersey’s story about Hemingway, but I get the feeling that Hemingway was much more a permanent fixture in Key West.  The accounts Hersey gives of him show that he was not a permanent fixture in the lives of everyone he met, but he made a strong impression on them, as you can probably imagine.

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