The stone pillow
Now let’s move on to a unique connection (translator’s word) and explore the nature of erotic happiness – the distance between touch and memory. The tone, as in all of the stories in this book, is autumnal, and memory failures are openly admitted. A young woman writes tanka poems, and when she and her lover find themselves naked in each other’s arms, she warns him that when she cums, she will call out someone else’s name. He’s fine with that but asks her to bite a towel because the walls are thin.
“Loving someone is like having a mental illness that is not covered by health insurance,” she explains. (Again, we’re back in a place we’ve forgotten, young enough to seek, to feel the madness of reality, just like we might feel listening to Patti Smith – perhaps Murakami’s most devoted fan. – sing “Dancing Barefoot”.)
The story, “The Stone Pillow,” unfolds a few years later, when the narrator finds a tattered book, that of the young woman, and reads some of the poems, opening one of the deeply beautiful tunes of Murakami:
“If we are blessed, however, a few words might stick with us. They climb to the top of the hill at night, crawl through small holes dug to conform to their body shape, remain silent and let the stormy winds of the weather pass. Dawn finally rises, the wild wind subsides and the surviving words quietly spring to the surface. For the most part, they have small voices – they are shy and have only ambiguous ways of expressing themselves. Even so, they are ready to serve as witnesses. As honest and fair witnesses. But to create those enduring, long-suffering words, or find them and leave them behind, you have to sacrifice, unconditionally, your own body, your own heart. You have to lie down with your neck on a cold stone pillow illuminated by the winter moon.
Perhaps the book’s most revealing story is a sequel to a widely anthologized earlier play, “A Shinagawa Monkey,” first published in The New Yorker in 2006. In this book, a monkey sneaks into Tokyo. by stealing names – literally victims cannot remember their own names. “It’s a disease I suffer from,” says the monkey, when he is finally captured and questioned. “Once I fix a name, I can’t help myself. Not just any name, mind you. I’ll see a name that appeals to me, then I have to have it. I know it’s wrong, but I can’t control myself.
All of the victims are young women the monkey finds desirable, and given the criticisms sometimes leveled at the male gaze in Murakami’s work, it may be tempting to read the rest, “Confessions of a Shinagawa Monkey,” as an attempt exaggerated. at atonement, the assurance that the impulse was motivated by genuine admiration – love – not lust.
“I make the name of the woman I love a part of me,” the monkey tells the narrator, over cold beers at a hotel in Gunma Prefecture. It is “a completely pure platonic act. I just have a great love for that name inside of me, secretly. Like a gentle breeze floating on a meadow. Still, he says, he decided to quit.
One feels a greater task for the author: to probe previous creative impulses, to examine the relationship between his own life and the act of conjuring lives out of thin air. It is the current that runs through all fiction – the musical thrill between the real and the imaginary. What better way to remake, without totally rejecting, your past self than to reassess your creations, your fictitious ghosts?