Haruki Murakami met Northwest short-story writer Raymond Carver for the first and only time in the summer of 1984. Murakami was 35 and had been writing for six years; his first great novel, “A Wild Sheep Chase,” came out in 1982 but none of his work had been published in English. He was known to Carver only as the enthusiastic translator who had been bringing his stories out in Japan at an impressive clip.
Carver was curious enough to interrupt his writing schedule for a social visit — something he generally avoided — and he was flattered that Murakami had come all the way from Japan to Port Angeles to meet him.
“Ray was eager, almost childlike with delight, to meet Murakami, to see who he was and why Ray’s writing had brought them together on the planet,” Tess Gallagher, Carver’s widow, wrote after the meeting.
Carver didn’t know it, but Murakami was on a pilgrimage. When Murakami read Carver’s “So Much Water So Close to Home” in 1982, he was hit by a thunderbolt. To Murakami, this was genius, “an entirely new kind of fiction,” realistic but penetrating and profound in a way that he believed “goes beyond simple realism.” Murakami read another Carver story, “Where I’m Calling From,” in The New Yorker, and began collecting and translating everything of Carver’s he could find.
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Murakami is self-taught, a jazz-club owner who started writing fiction after an epiphany at a baseball game. He sticks to his own path and follows it without hesitation. In Carver’s fiction, he found a map to guide him.
“Raymond Carver was without question the most valuable teacher I ever had and also the greatest literary comrade,” Murakami wrote in “A Literary Comrade,” an essay published after Carver’s death. “The novels I write tend, I believe, in a very different direction from the fiction Ray has written. But if he had never existed, or I had never encountered his writings, the books I write, especially my short fiction, would probably assume a very different form.”
Carver’s literary path zigzagged through the Northwest. Born in Clatskanie, Oregon, to a sawmill worker and a waitress, Carver grew up in Yakima, got married at 19, and joined his father in the mill. He bounced around for the next 20 years, drinking, taking classes, squeezing out time to write on the weekends. His stories were about working people struggling to connect, falling down and getting up.
Murakami and his wife, Yoko, visited Carver and Gallagher at Sky House, a wide-windowed home on the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Murakami was struck by Carver’s “massive physical size,” and noted “the way he sat on the sofa with his body crunched up as if to say he had never intended to get so…