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The Elephant Vanishes [Audio]

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A popular Japanese novelist who lives in New Jersey but sets his fictions in Japan, Murakami ( A Wild Sheep Chase ) invests everyday events with surreal overtones to create 17 disturbing existential conundrums. Things appear from, and disappear to, alternate levels of reality with frightening ease: A man glimpses an elephant shrinking, and its keeper growing, shortly before the animal vanishes from a suburban Tokyo zoo; a woman tortures a little green monster who crawls out of her garden to propose marriage; while another man watches impassively as three silent, tiny strangers--``TV People''--invade his house, install a TV set and take over his life. Even more strictly earthbound stories have the quality of modern fables, as when a newlywed couple hold up a McDonald's to break the curse that gives them late-night hunger attacks, or when an out-of-work paralegal copes with his angry wife, a flirtatious teenage neighbor and an anonymous woman phone caller who seems to know everything about him. In both his playful throwaway sketches and his darkly comic masterpieces, Murakami has proven himself a virtuoso with a fertile imagination. (Mar.)

This collection of 15 stories from a popular Japanese writer, perhaps best known in this country for A Wild Sheep Chase ( LJ 11/15/89), gives a nice idea of his breadth of style. The work maintains the matter-of-fact tone reminiscent of American detective fiction, balancing itself somewhere between the spare realism of Raymond Carver and the surrealism of Kobo Abe. These are not the sort of stories that one thinks of as ``Japanese''; the intentionally Westernized style and well-placed reference to pop culture gives them a contemporary and universal feel. Engaging, thought-provoking, humorous, and slyly profound, these skillful stories will easily appeal to American readers but must present something of a challenge to the Japanese cultural establishment. At their best, however, they serve to dispel cultural stereotypes and reveal a common humanity. Recommended for libraries with an interest in contemporary fiction.-- Mark Woodhouse, Elmira Coll. Lib., N.Y.

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