It was right in the middle of a short story from Singer’s Collected Stories – a humdinger of a big bright mostly-yellow paperback (which if it were a food would have to be a potato knish - at least from its exterior).
The interior would be different than a knish, because a potato knish filling just sits there promising a certain density of experience meant to give any normal human being a caloric wallop of the most delicious cardboard-like textured foodstuff that will set them stuck firmly onto their chair for at least several hours, where they’d have to remain, able to only nod or grunt at any conversational gambits offered.
Singer’s book’s interior is not like a knish, it’s like a dance hall - one of the old ones in an unpopular neighborhood in Paris once upon a time. You don’t eat it, you dance in in, or act as wallflower, devouring the scenes as the people move and dance in their bizarrely human ways.
So anyway, here I was, reading Singer. I was about halfway through the book and I’d actually become Singer from reading for so many hours in the past week. I was an elderly male Jew, reliving my childhood experiences in places unlike modern-day New York City. I believed in dybbuks and kept watch for their tricky ways in my life and everyone else’s. Then I moved forward in time to being an elderly male Jew in the past mid-century of New York City. There I was, telling my story, and in walks Haruki Murakami.
I looked at him. He was standing in a corner of the room, watching quietly, listening. How did I know it was him? Well, of course, I was both Singer and myself, Karen the reader, who knows Murakami fairly well.
Another time, perhaps, I’ll tell you a story about how Murakami moved into my real life through his story The Kidney Shaped Stone, but that’s for another day.
First! I am not one of those people who gets crushes on writers, either in real life or for their writing. So it’s not like Murakami follows me around.
But there he was, on the page, in the story, and as Singer began to speak through his writing, Murakami was speaking with him, work for word, softly, an intonation that was both his and Singer’s together.
As Singer and as me, I couldn’t believe it. I tried to read on, tried to say ‘Murakami is simply not here, you’re crazy,’ but no, Haruki insisted he was there, and he smiled.
I continued to read through to the end of the 610 pages of Singer’s book. There were many pages upon which Murakami did not appear, but then there were others where he glowed a bit over in the corner of the scenes.
Finally I pinned it down to where his entry was and where he seemed to hum along. It was in the stories written by Singer in New York City. The voices of the two men had a similar consonancy, timbre, heft, timing. Each man is, as narrator, as much ironically self-reflective as they are descriptive of their scenes and their actual path of their stories. Both men are gentle in a masculine way, not such a commonplace thing. Each follows women down paths leading to quite curious places, into geographies where the barrier between reality and whatever’s on the other side warps, is challenged, or is breached.
The story where I first saw Murakami entering Singer’s room held aspects of an exploration of the (formally) occult – the road of it led to questions of whether a soul, having left its human shell, can speak to the living. Murakami often has his eye trained on this question as he converses with his readers through his writing.
I finally finished Singer’s non-potato knish and, just as if I had eaten a potato knish, was completely exhausted. Murakami’s popping in like that had thrown me for a loop. I couldn’t read anyone else, anything else, for a long time after, all I could do was sit and hope for freedom from the charm and the beauty and the shock of finding a meeting of these two minds inside Singer’s tales and parables. For they did meet. As Murakami ghost-whispered along with Singer, as the hum of his voice resonated as a subtle insertion of personality now and then, Singer looked over to the corner and recognized his fellow writer from the future. Don’t ask me how. And believe it or not, he smiled just ever-so-slightly, nodded toward him, and continued on.