Author: Haruki Murakami
Format: Trade Paperback
Toru Okada, by most standards, is a bum. He has forsaken his legal career to be a stay-at-home husband while his wife, Kumiko, serves as the breadwinner. With no job prospects, Kumiko gives her husband the task of tracking down their missing cat.
A forsaken career and missing pet are the least of Toru’s problems. Despite his wife’s assurances, their marriage is failing and she begins to work long hours, leaving Toru with idle time to dwell in his thoughts. Upon Kumiko’s encouragement, he enlists two sister psychics to help find the missing cat. Their abilities transcend their normal occupation and they visit Toru in his dreams as well as in real life. In addition, a mysterious woman begins to call him on the phone, neglecting to identify herself, but seems to have intimate knowledge of Toru. Then there is May Kasahara, a teenage neighbor, who has a profound interest in death.
Soon, Toru finds that Kumiko has gone missing, presumably with another man, but the facts don’t add up. Kumiko’s brother, a politician whose stardom seems rooted in the occult, warns Toru to lay off. He sees Toru as a deadbeat husband with rocks in his head and is adamant that Kumiko has no desire to see him again.
Toru refuses to give up on his quest for Kumiko and finds himself in a strange hotel room and for many days at the bottom of a well. Just as the psychics meet Toru in reality and in his dreams, Toru seems to have the ability to transcend into another plane of existence. By traveling through the well, Toru escapes to a surreal world that bears resemblance to the physical world from which he came, but is in many ways different. It is here that Toru hopes to find his missing wife.
The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle is a tremendous achievement, rich in character and complete with the hyperbolic world both Toru and Kumiko occupy. When Kumiko disappeared, I saw this book as being the antithesis of John Updike’s Rabbit, Run. Instead of following the antihero, Rabbit Angstrom, who decidedly leaves his family on a wayward journey, we follow Toru, the remnant that remains, uncertain of what has happened. But unlike Rabbit’s wife, who finds her solace in alcohol, Toru searches to restore his family. Even when all of the facts suggest that their marriage is not repairable, Toru continues on, unafraid of death or the reality which he might encounter.
Perhaps the biggest fault of the novel lies in its stream-of-consciousness nature. The premise is simple, but the plot is scattered. There were times in the middle where I felt the story became bogged down and without direction, but my frustration soon subsided as familiar threads began to come together.
Not having read a lot of Murakami, I cannot say what novel the reader should begin with. Having read it, I can say that I am eager to read more (I am currently halfway through 1Q84). Despite the looseness of the narrative, the characters and surreal depiction of the human condition struck a chord with me. It is an intelligent read with enough puzzles to keep the reader guessing.