Happy birthday to you, happy birthday to me. I hate birthdays. A time when a number changes and expectations are high. Every time the wonder of celebration turns the other way and I’m left wishing the day would be over. To read a collection about birthdays of people happy and cheerful would be sickening indeed! But Birthday Stories, a collection of shorts selected by Haruki Murakami, tells dark tales of age, significance and loneliness. My type of party!
The thirteen short tales on the subject are from various writers, some of them which everyone will have heard of. Raymond Carver, William Trevor to Claire Keegan ad Russell Banks. Each writer has a different tale to tell, some sharing similar DNA, but ultimately providing a fresh outlook. An anthology should always provide this, something a one writer short story collection can not always achieve and Birthday Stories maintains a high quality.
Most stand out with memorable moments, such as the tale of the man with no skin in Turning by Lynda Sexson, and the opening tale, The Moor, by Russell Banks which tells the tale of a man meeting an old lady on her birthday who he once knew as his first lover. To say only one short in the whole book failed to leave any kind of impression in my mind says a lot, a far cry from the tedious cliché driven collection Stories. The tales tend to be wrapped up in darkness, but before digging you into a pit of misery, hope is offered by the end, which makes it all the worthwhile.
I picked out Birthday Stories to take a break from my Murakami journey, as he only features at the very end and it has done some good. Some of the writers left such an impression I want to explore their works and others made me feel that a birthday is just another normal day. Next year I won’t think so badly of my birthday when it comes. This book will be there on the shelf waiting to be pulled out and I can fall into a proper celebration.