Skip to main content

New Yorker Fiction Reviews: "Samsa in Love" by Haruki Murakami

I'm on a marathon quest to get caught up on my New Yorker reviewing. I will not rest until I succeed. At this point, the quest is bigger than me, it's bigger than The New Yorker, hell it's bigger than Nicki Minaj's ass...no, not really. 

Issue: Oct. 28, 2013

Story: "Samsa in Love"


Plot: Anyone who took Eighth Grade English (and payed attention) will likely recognize the name "Samsa" in the title here; it comes from the famous Franz Kafka story "Metamorphosis" in which the main character, Gregor Samsa, wakes up one morning to find he's turned into a beetle. Here, Murakami reverses that classic, archetypal short story so that the beetle wakes up and finds that he's become a human named Gregor Samsa. What? Who?! That's right. He spends part of a day getting used to his new body, trying to find food in the house and clothe himself. He is then visited by a female locksmith who reveals that they are in the middle of the Prague Spring. He becomes attracted to the locksmith, as she's a hunch back and therefore reminds him a little bit of his former life as a beetle. 

Review: I don't have a lot of patience for Murakami. He's one of those international authors I feel like everyone's "supposed" to like, but I can't deal him. Not only because his stories feature disappearing hotels, floating dolphins, and all manner of other Magical Realism hokiness, but because I can't stand the writing. He takes too long to get to the damn point

After precisely ONE sentence we realize this story's conceit: the beetle has become a human instead of the other way around. Okay, great. We've all read "Metamorphosis," we all get it. Yet most of the story describes, in painfully slow detail, Samsa's attempts to figure out his new body. I mean look, I get it, okay? It's not a difficult concept. Let's get to the point when something happens. I don't see the cuteness in describing every movement of his body and every moment of realization he goes through in the process of finding his humanity....in the course of one afternoon. 

This seemed more like a Creative Writing Class exercise than a story, and I found myself scanning the coming paragraphs to find a place when he actually encountered someone or had a moment of real conflict. But I still read the entire thing word-for-word, and carefully, as a service to my readers.  

I don't know. This will appeal to some people. It's not inherently "bad" in any way; nothing in the New Yorker is patently bad. But, this took work to read and not the "good" kind of work either. Not the "What Does This All Mean" kind of work but the, "Oh God I Hope This Story is Over Soon" kind of work. 

One kind of entertaining part was when Samsa -- wearing only a nightshirt -- becomes aroused watching the locksmith as she bends over for her tools. He doesn't know what to make of his fully erect dong at first and therefore makes no attempt to hide it from the young woman. The locksmith merely takes it in stride, however, which I thought was a missed opportunity for some conflict. 

That is all. 


Comments

Popular posts from this blog

New Yorker Fiction Review #151: "The Bog Girl" by Karen Russell

From the June 20 issue...

My loyal readers (if there are still any, which I doubt) will know I'm usually not a fan of Magical Realism, which, as you may also know, is Karen Russell's stock in trade. That said, there's nothing I love more than having my antipathy for magical realism shattered by an awesome story like "The Bog Girl."

Briefly, an Irish teenager discovers the body of a young woman who as been buried in a bog for over 2,000 years and begins to date her. What more do you need, right? If I'd read that one-line description somewhere else, and wasn't on a mission to review every New Yorker short story, I doubt I'd have read "The Bog Girl." But maybe I should start doing a George Costanza and do the opposite of everything I think I should do.

Where Russell succeeds here is in two main areas: 1.) Making us really love Cillian, the teenager who falls in love with the bog girl, and 2.) pulling the unbelievable trick making the characters…

Holiday Q&A, Volume 1

These questions come to us from Grace. Thanks for sending your questions!! Answers below:
What is the most thrilling mystery you have read and/or watched?
The Eiger Sanction (book and film) by Trevanian is what's coming to mind. International espionage. Mountain-climbing assassins. Evil albino masterminds. Sex. Not a bad combination. Warning, this is completely a "guy" movie, and the film (feat. Clint Eastwood) is priceless 70s action movie cheese. But in case that's your thing...
What's the deal with Narcos?
Narcos is a Netflix show about the rise and fall (but mostly the fall) of Columbian cocaine kingpin Pablo Escobar. Thus far there are two seasons of 10 episodes each. RIYL: The film Blow, starring Johnny Depp; the book Zombie City, by Thomas Katz; the movie Goodfellas; true crime; anything involving the drug trade. My brief review: Season 1 started out a bit slow and I know a bunch of people who never made it past the first few episodes. Some of the acting is a…

A Piece of Advice I Learned From My Grandfather

My grandfather was one of the most learned men I know. He read widely and voraciously, and not just in the sciences (he was a doctor); he loved politics, philosophy, and great literature as well. Whenever he finished a book he would write his thoughts about the book in the front cover and then sign and date it. To this day every once in a while I will open a book from my bookshelf or my mother's bookshelf, or at one of my family members' homes, and there will be my grandfather's handwriting. He was also a great giver of his books; if you remarked that you liked a particular one or wanted to read it, you were almost sure to take it home with you.

Reading is a very solitary pursuit but my grandfather was not a solitary person. He relished having family and friends around him which is convenient because he was blessed with a lot of both. And he carried out his intellectual life in a very "public" way as well. He was, in some ways, an intellectual evangelist. If he r…