“Mother dumped my father,” a friend of my wife’s was saying one day, “all because of a pair of shorts.”
…is how Murakami’s “Lederhosen” starts out, and from the title and beginning it appears like it will be in Murakami’s signature style: unsettling, deadpan, ridiculous. Like Kafka drawn in crayon.
It isn’t, however, it is very non-Murakami in style.
You pick up The Elephant Vanishes, you decide whether or not to start at the beginning or leaf through and read stories as they appeal to you, you try out some of his more mainstream stories like “On Seeing the 100% Perfect Girl One Beautiful April Morning” or “The Second Bakery Attack” and you start to really acclimate to that Murakami feel that bleeds from his pages. Then you read “Lederhosen” and you think you smell a rat.
It isn’t really fantasy, I say, it is a proverb.
“They weren’t really shorts”, she says. “They were lederhosen.”
“You mean those hiking pants the Germans wear? The ones with the shoulder straps?”
“You got it. Father wanted a pair of lederhosen as a souvenir gift. Well, Father’s pretty tall for his generation. He might even look good in them, which could be why he wanted them. But can you picture a Japanese wearing lederhosen? I guess it takes all kinds.”
Can I picture a Japanese wearing lederhosen? No more than I can picture Murakami trying to rewrite Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, and yet here I am, in my papasan chair at two o’clock ante meridian, learning about how the simple act of putting on a pair of lederhosen can change one’s perception so much as to lead to divorce. Robert Pirsig wept.
Wait a minute, Peter, you’re getting ahead of yourself. You never mentioned why the lederhosen made her leave her husband.
Right. Mother was in a small town in Germany shopping for lederhosen for Father. The lederhosen store takes great pride in fitting every one of its customers and won’t just hand out a pair of lederhosen for no reason. They must fit the customer. Since Father isn’t around, Mother has the ingenuity to sit on a park bench outside until she comes across a man who—more or less—fits the basic dimensions of her husband, so she can use him as a stand-in to get her bespoke lederhosen that she will then give to Father.
She finds a man and drags him into the shop to be fitted for her husband’s lederhosen and this happens:
“That’s something even Mother herself didn’t understand at the time. It made her defensive and confused. All she knew was, looking at that man in the lederhosen, she felt an unbearable disgust rising in her. Directed toward Father. And she could not hold it back. Mother’s lederhosen man, apart from the color of his skin, was exactly like Father, the shape of the legs, the belly, the thinning hair. The way he was so happy trying on those new lederhosen, all prancy and cocky like a little boy. As Mother stood there looking at this man, so many things she’d been uncertain of about herself slowly shifted together into something very clear. That’s when she realized she hated Father.”
And her daughter totally understands and forgives Mother. And they all (supposedly) live happily ever after, except the husband, who lost his wife and never got his goddamn lederhosen.