Haruki Murakami vs. John Hersey: A Deal Me In Short Story Challenge

blind willowJohn Hersey was better.

For this round of the Deal Me In Short Story Challenge I drew “Firefly” by Haruki Murakami and “A Game of Anagrams” by John Hersey.

I did do a little “Yes!” when I drew a short story by Murakami.  For a long time my deck has been dancing around the Murakami cards, getting close, tempting me to stray from the rules.  Finally, a Murakami story, I thought.

But as soon as I started reading “Firefly” things felt very familiar, too familiar.  Turns out “Firefly” is one of those practice stories writers often do before developing an idea into a full length novel, in this case Norwegian Wood. Norwegian Wood is  Murakami’s college novel, about a group of three friends and  the sort of romance they have.  It’s a completely realistic novel with no touches of magical realism at all which is not really a good thing in a Murakami story.  Those of us who like the talking cats want talking cats in our Murakami stories.

“Firefly” is a good story; it’s kind of interesting to see him warming up for Norwegian Wood, maybe revisiting it, I’m not sure of the timeline here.  But it’s not a don’t miss Murakami story.

John Hersey’s short story “A Game of Anagrams” was lots of fun.  It’s exactly what the title states, an account of four men playing a game called Anagrams.  The game is played with Scrabble tiles but the board is not used. Instead, the first player puts a word down on the table in front of him. Say the word is “rob.”  The next player can either put down his own word or steal “rob” by adding at least one letter to it to make a new word such as “boar.”  Whoever gets eight words first wins.

Mr. Hersey descries each move the players make which sounds like it would make for a dull story, but was actually quite fun.  The four players are very good at the game–one changes “begum” to “umbrage.”   Another steals “umbrage,” adds an “h” and an “r” to make “hamburger.”

There’ a little bit more going on besides just the game as one player, Paladin, keeps making words that are much darker than he needs to.  For example, Paladin steals ‘leach’ and adds two letters to make ‘Cholera.’

“We may wonder again at the malignancy of Paladin’s choices. ‘Cholera’ was clever, but why not ‘chorale?’

That’s really all there is to “A Game of Anagrams” but I had a terrific time reading it.

And I really want to find some people who would like to give the game a try.

So do these two stories have anything in common, any way that I can link the two together?  This is the extra challenge I have given myself to put some additional spice into the Deal Me In Short Story Challenge.

Both are about a small group of very intelligent friends.  Murakami’s college students are just the kind of people who might try their hand at a game of anagrams.  Had their story come to a different conclusion, they might have ended up old friends like the ,  in Hersey’s tale.  And they both have one character who is concealing a malignancy, something in their character that may be leading them into darkness.  The other characters see it or fail to see it but do nothing about it.

In any case, you Scrabble fans out there should really give Anagrams a try.  If you live in the San Francisco Bay Area, I’d love to join.

3 thoughts on “Haruki Murakami vs. John Hersey: A Deal Me In Short Story Challenge

  1. I had the same experience with Firefly/Norwegian Wood, but in my case it was the short story I had read first. It’s not my favorite Murakami story either, but generally speaking I loved the Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman collection.

    I haven’t read any Hersey yet, but I am mostly fascinated by the anagrams game you describe from the story. I love word games but this sounds like a new one (to me).

    1. Because of the Deal Me In Challenge, in part, I’ve not been reading whole collections at a time. I tend to lose interest after a number of stories. Next deck I plan on making one entire suit of cards Murakami.

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