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It’s rare, though not impossible, to connect emotionally with one of Haruki Murakami’s characters.

They are transparent nonentities, serving to focus and magnify.

In these seven stories, Murakami’s heroes look at the negative space of the other people (usually, though not always, women) in their lives—and find that what’s there disappears faster than it can be understood.

Men Without Women is best when it engages directly with its heroes’ alienation, their estrangement not only from women but from themselves. I wasn’t hurt enough when I should have been, Kino admitted to himself. I didn’t want to take it on, so I avoided facing up to it. The snakes have grabbed that spot and are trying to hide their coldly beating hearts there.

A more accurate title might be Men With Loneliness.

“If it’s too much to ask that he’s happy, I hope at least that today he has his health, and all his needs met.But in the worst of these stories, we begin to suspect that Murakami’s men are unknowable only because they contain little worth knowing.Those weaker stories also tend to be the ones that hew most closely to the idea of men without women: a man trying to escape the woman he’s been dating since childhood, a man who dies of a broken heart, a man forced to reckon with the death of a lover who left him a long time ago.The narrator of “Men Without Women,” the one whose ex-girlfriend is dead, learns the news while lying in bed next to his wife.Yet he goes on to define his experience as a man without women for the next dozen or so pages.

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