Strange Coincidences

Okay, I’ll admit that I’m a fan of coincidences, even though during the week between 8am and 5pm I officially “don’t believe in them” (I’m an Accountant/Banker by trade). But in my personal life I enjoy noting their appearance and speculating about their “cause.” Why does a certain person call you just after you’ve been thinking about them? Why does a certain song come on the radio at “just the right moment” to fit your mood? Yes, I know the answer is because they are in fact just that – coincidences. Simply the law of averages dictates that we’re bound to encounter them from time to time.

I was happy, though, when reading through Haruki Murakami’s wonderful book of short stories, “Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman,” to come across a story that fit in nicely with my fondness for coincidences.

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(**minor spoiler alert**) The story is titled “Chance Traveler” and begins with the author “intruding” into the story with a couple “tales of coincidence” from his own real life. These are the lead-in to a story of a friend of his that he re-tells. This story involves a more complex chain of coincidental components, beginning when his friend is reading in a coffee shop.

His book of choice for that day is Charles Dickens’s “Bleak House.” After he gets up to take a break And use the restroom, he returns to find a woman sitting (and also reading) in the chair next to his. After a moment, the woman apologizes for interrupting him and asks if he is reading Dickens too, and it turns out they are reading the same book. Quite a coincidence, wouldn’t you say, especially since the book is not a current best-seller, and not even one of the more popular novels of Dickens.

Not surprisingly the two strike up a bit of a friendship, which later grows a bit awkward when it becomes evident she is looking for more out of their “relationship” than he is able to give. A certain physical characteristic of hers reminds him, however, of his estranged sister, and he ends up calling her (for the first time in ten years) at “just the right time” when she needs him.

At the end of the book, Murakami speculates that  “…perhaps chance is a pretty common thing after all. Those kind of coincidences are happening all around us, all the time, but most of them don’t catch our attention and we just let them go by. It’s like fireworks in the daytime. You might hear a faint sound, but even if you look up in the sky you can’t see a thing. But if we’re really hoping something might come true, it may become visible, like a message rising to the surface.”

There. I think I’ve summarized the story without giving too much away if you’d like to read it for yourself. The volume of short stories that contains this tale is full of other gems that are worth your time too, and I hope I’m not too out of line suggesting that you buy a copy as soon as possible. 🙂

(Below: Haruki Murakami – perhaps contemplating a new short story idea?)

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3 Comments

  1. Dale said,

    April 30, 2012 at 9:39 pm

    Another coincidence is that within the last few days I got a copy of 1Q84 …and I was just thinking that Bleak House will have to be one of the books I read in the second half of 2012 when I do the Charles Dickens/Isaac Asimov part of my 2012 Reading Project. (I’m not sure they will fit together as well as Kipling and London have – but it’ll be fun to see). Bleak House has been on my shelf for a long time. 1Q84 is in the queue next after I finish Kipling’s Kim – which I really like so far.

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    • Jay said,

      May 1, 2012 at 7:26 am

      Hi Dale,
      Wow, what a … Coincidence! I hope you like 1Q84. A bit weird – well, a lot weird – but I’m pretty confident you’ll become a fan of his writing style, as I have.
      Yes, Asimov and Dickens seem an unlikely pairing, but I also never would have come up with Kipling and Wolf as complementary reading either, and that seems to have worked out well for you.
      -Jay

      Like

  2. June 28, 2012 at 9:54 am

    […] Isn’t it funny? In my last post, where I once again briefly described the mechanics of my annual short story reading project, I mentioned how letting fate decide the order of my reading often led to curious coincidences. Then, in the post before that, I related how a collection of an author’s short stories is something like a batch of cookies. Should I really be surprised, then, when just a few pages into my latest story, the protagonist decides “to make a batch of chocolate chip cookies?” Once again I feel like Haruki Murakami’s Chance Traveler… […]

    Like


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