Deal Me In Challenge: Stories #6 and #7

deal me in smI’ve fallen behind on Deal Me In story reporting, so let’s catch up!

For story #6, the cards dealt me the 10 of Hearts – “Samsa in Love” by Haruki Murakami.  This story originally ran in the New Yorker on October 28, 2013, and is still available to read for free as of this blog post. Let me start by saying I love Murakami.  He’s one of my absolute favorite authors, and I have loved far more of his work than I have not enjoyed. That being said, this is one of those rare pieces of his that I didn’t really enjoy.  It certainly wasn’t a bad story; it just didn’t resonate with me, and although the writing was good and there were enjoyable bits, overall I was underwhelmed.

10 heartsThe story is based on a conceptual switcheroo of Franz Kafka’s The Metamorphosis, but with the transformation working in reverse.  (This is never directly addressed, and it is assumed that the reader has previously read Kafka and is familiar with the central device of transformation from human to insect – here presented as insect to human.)  The protagonist learns to walk on two legs, is dismayed by his current body’s vulnerabilities, and is deeply puzzled as to why he’s woken up in this state alone in a large, empty house.  He meets a young woman who comes to fix a lock in the house, and he finds himself falling in “love.”  (Actually, I’d call it “lust,” although he is quite perplexed about what it is that he’s feeling.)

I did find one aspect of the story amusing, which is first noted in this passage:

“In any case, he had to learn how to move his body. He couldn’t lie there staring up at the ceiling forever. The posture left him much too vulnerable. He had no chance of surviving an attack—by predatory birds, for example.”

Samsa is highly concerned about protecting himself from such theoretical avian predators, which is absurd on the surface but quite funny in context of his original state.  With all the other threats looming, this is the one that continues to preoccupy him throughout the story.

I feel like I should like this story more, but so many aspects of it turned me off.  I’ll simply have to stick to the many, many Murakami stories and books that I have absolutely loved and leave this one to others.

ace spadesWeek 7’s card, the Ace of Spades, brought me “Saint Junior” by Sherman Alexei, from the collection The Toughest Indian in the World.  Alexei is a local Pacific Northwest author, and I’ve been meaning to read more of his work for a long while. This story was recommended to me by my boyfriend, who is a big fan of the author, and it turned out to be very appropriate to draw this card during the week of Valentine’s Day.

This slice-of-life story focuses on Roman Gabriel Fury, a 40-ish year old living on the Spokane Indian Reservation and coaching basketball at the local school.  He has a former career in the minor/international leagues of professional basketball behind him and is devoted to his wife Grace Atwater, who is half Mohawk / half Chinese-American. They live a quietly romantic life, married 18 years, and seem to truly understand each other.

“Roman’s entire political philosophy revolved around the basic tenant that a person, any person, had only enough energy at any given time to believe in three things. 

‘Choose your three,’ Roman was often fond of pontificating.  ‘And stick with them.’

Roman himself believed in free expression, Grace Atwater and basketball.”

Roman has wonderful memories of his Grandmother and her salmon mush, dreams of being a warrior like his ancestors (despite his deep commitment to pacifism,) a snarky tongue and a college degree, a rarity on the reservation.  Grace also has a degree, a career as a fourth-grade teacher (she loves the kids but has come to the realization that she wants none of her own) and a secret vocation of writing/publishing poetry and stories under various pseudonyms.  They are quietly, passionately and touchingly devoted to each other and have weathered many storms together.

I really enjoyed this story.  Unlike many of Alexei’s stories, this wasn’t heavy or shot through with pain.  I was very fond of the protagonist and his wife, and I appreciated the way Spokane heritage was sprinkled naturally throughout the story.  I think this would be a wonderful introduction for anyone to the author’s work.


12 thoughts on “Deal Me In Challenge: Stories #6 and #7

  1. Pingback: Deal Me In Week 7 Wrap-Up | Bibliophilopolis

  2. Hi Candiss,

    I’m a big Murakami fan as well. His story collection “Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman” is one of my favorite books. The part you mention about the quirky obsession with aerial predators sounds so much like him. His story “Chance Traveler” really made me think about coincidences and how much more common they might be than we think.

    And speaking of coincidences, when I was notified of your post due to the ping back (love that WordPress app’s chime!) I was watching an old John Wayne western on one of those high-numbered cable channels. It also starred a couple members of the (then) Los Angeles Rams, including … quarterback Roman Gabriel(!) To take it a step further, he plays an Indian in the movie.

    The Sherman Alexie tale about Roman Gabriel fury sounds like a sweet story. It also sounds different from the Alexie stories I’ve read in my collection of his, “War Dances.”

    Great post. 🙂


    • Ah, serendipity! I didn’t know quarterback Roman Gabriel was a real person! In the story, Roman’s father tells him that’s who he’s named for, as although he was never particularly fond of him as a player he did really like his name. Roman doesn’t much care for his name, but his dad responds that he could have ended up Namath Fury or Tarkenton Fury, so he should be thankful! 😀

  3. I’m a big fan of both these authors. Well, I prefer Murakami’s long fiction over his short stories and Alexie’s short stories over his longer works.

    I nominate Sherman Alexie as a master of the short form. Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven is one of my favorite anthologies.

    • I will definitely be reading more Alexei in the future. I have a feeling I’ll agree with you that he’s a master!

      I’ve liked some of Murakami’s short stories, but I agree that his long works tend to be better. I think he’s best when he has a good long chunk of pages to really twist his plot lines around and create something special.

  4. I haven’t read any Haruki Murakami yet, but I keep meaning to. After Dark, especially, has been on my list for a long while. Considering I never cared for Kafka’s The Metamorphosis, “Samsa in Love” sounds pretty good to me. 😉

  5. i’m ignoring the first part of your post! i’ve got siamsa in love on my challenge this year as well, so after i get to that one, i’ll come back and compare! 🙂

    • regarding part 2, sherman alexie is on my radar screen for a while now, but i haven’t read any of his stories yet. i’ll mark this one as a possible introduction!

  6. I’ve enjoyed Murakami’s 1Q84 and a couple of his short stories. I keep telling myself I’m going to read more. I have heard quite a few negative reactions to 1Q84 from avid Murakami fans. I can only think that if 1Q84 isn’t his best, his other work must really be fantastic. I’ve got Kafka on the Shore on my radar. I haven’t read anything by Sherman Alexie, but the story you posted about sounds good!

  7. I’ve never read any Murakami I think I am rather daunted by him, and I am afraid I’ve not heard of Sherman Alexis. I did rather like Kafka though when I was an angst ridden twenty year old and remember Metamorphosis really well.


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