★★☆☆☆: Fairy tale-esque stories pleasantly combine spookiness with lolling mundanity.
I have read a Murakami novel previously (Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World) although it was several years ago and my memory of it is hazy, but I knew what to expect from his writing style. I found it very suited to the format of a short story collection, because a series of short form pieces really allow for lots of diversity and creativity in his bizarre scenarios. I enjoy the combination of oddness and mundanity. The tone at times really reminded me of Tao Lin's Bed: Stories. Lin writes with a similar focus on a slightly warped slice of life, although whilst Lin's book seemed obsessively focused on the cycling misery of the unsatisfying, irregular relationships and lifestyles of its characters, The Elephant Vanishes has a more rewarding density in terms of emotional connection and response.
Murakami does maintain a sense of resigned unfulfillment across his stories, but this is laced with prose which evokes admiration, spookiness, wonder, confusion, amusement, and all sorts of reactions. Lin's short stories were exasperating to read for me. I find a lot of fiction has a stifling fixation on mundane misery which can be uncomfortable and exhausting to read. I felt some of that discomfort with The Elephant Vanishes, and I definitely liked some stories better than others, but the point is that Murakami gives you a selection here. You're not being forced into the same corner with these stories.
For me, the appeal of Murakami's writing is the simple mysticism. He creates these lovely little fairy tale stories with a traditional bit of meanness to them, and pairs them with kitchen appliance salesmen and dull dentists. Magical little things are happening all around all these salarymen and their bored (but far from boring) wives. I love the prevalence of job specifics that somehow makes the entire lives of these characters feel wide and vague and empty (quite a few characters work in marketing, and then there's Noburu Watanabe...). There's a pleasant absurdity combined with a feeling of absolute pointlessness. My favourite stories were: Sleep, The Little Green Monster, and The Dancing Dwarf.