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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, 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 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. 


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