The story and surface together sound both hokey and random, which points to the most perplexing part of Murakami: that his fictions are so consistently transporting. Not every time, but often enough that it seems like another mathematical impossibility. Reality dials in and out, and the work respires with genuine emotion, and this happens within and not despite the clunky structures of wondering why X has moved to Finland, what Y has inside his bag, what led Z to become a Lexus salesman. At one point in the novel, while Tsukuru’s friend Haida is playing a recording of Liszt, Tsukuru recognizes the piece as one played on the piano by one of his childhood friends. Did she play it well? Haida asks Tsukuru. It sounded beautiful to me, Tsukuru answers. “Then she must have played it well,” Haida says. “The piece seems simple technically, but it’s hard to get the expression right. Play it just as it’s written on the score, and it winds up pretty boring. But go the opposite route and interpret it too intensely, and it sounds cheap.” This description might as well apply to the notes of Murakami’s pieces, which may explain why Murakami has so many admirers, and yet, I would venture, no descendants; it is exceptionally difficult to play such notes well. Following the technical habits of Murakami as if they are the source of the magic puts us at risk of being like those storied islanders who built their own airstrips and airport waiting rooms and waited for the goods to arrive.

Rivka Galchen, “The Monkey Did It”