Keiko Furukura had always been considered a strange child, and her parents always worried how she would get on in the real world, so when she takes on a job in a convenience store while at university, they are delighted for her. For her part, in the convenience store she finds a predictable world mandated by the store manual, which dictates how the workers should act and what they should say, and she copies her coworkers’ style of dress and speech patterns so she can play the part of a normal person. However, eighteen years later, at age 36, she is still in the same job, has never had a boyfriend, and has only few friends. She feels comfortable in her life but is aware that she is not living up to society’s expectations and causing her family to worry about her. When a similarly alienated but cynical and bitter young man comes to work in the store, he will upset Keiko’s contented stasis—but will it be for the better?
3/5 Rice Balls 🍙🍙🍙
For some reason, when I came across this book and put it on my TBR, I had no idea that the main character was not “normal” by society standards. Armchair diagnosis – Keiko is definitely a sociopath – not the murderous kind! There’s a spectrum, a checklist, if you will, and Keiko definitely checks a lot of boxes. For one, she doesn’t really understand human emotions. She has to pretend, to copy facial expressions and remember how people say certain things so she can mimic that in order to blend in and appear normal. For another thing, she doesn’t feel any emotional attachment to anyone, not even her sister. She acknowledges their relationship as one that is important because it’s family, but she would just as soon not see her sister and new baby nephew and be totally fine.
So it was really interesting to read a book from this kind of perspective. Keiko likes being a cog in a machine, a functioning worker at this convenience store, where she’s taught, as an employee, what to say and how to say it in terms of greetings and being helpful to customers. Even when she’s not at the convenience store, it’s all she really thinks about, and she only takes care of herself so she’ll be able-bodied enough to work there – as in, if she didn’t have to eat or sleep, she wouldn’t (or at least she wouldn’t feel like there was purpose to it).
The main conflict of this novel is that Keiko is in her thirties and still working this part-time job at the convenience store, which is considered abnormal to people, because she’s a fully grown adult and is barely supporting herself with this part-time job. So she tries to find new ways for people to accept her in this position, an new excuse to give to people so they’ll stop questioning her. She ends up letting another convenience store worker stay at her place after he’s fired, so that people will think they are together and potentially might get married.
This book was really interesting, because I’m not super familiar with Japanese culture and this book seemed to be a meditation on Japanese society, exploring why it is okay to be one way and not another. Often the narrator reflects that people are happier when something disruptive happens, because they get to complain about it/unite together and complain about it. Or, her friends would rather she be in a relationship, even if it’s crappy, just so that they can give advice or come together to gossip about it. In these ways, the idea of what is “normal” is explored, which I liked a lot!
The only downside to this book is that it’s hard to connect with the narrator because she seems so robotic and strange. Her ideas about things and the actions she takes are difficult to reconcile, because they seem so wrong to me. I don’t understand her obsession with the convenience store or why her thoughts revolve solely around this. I have no problem with her wanting to spend her life working there, but I didn’t relate to Keiko well enough to fully enjoy her story. That’s really the only reason, though.
I think the writing is good. Murata’s creation of this character who just doesn’t fit works really well as a device to comment on societal structures. I feel like a learned a bit about Japanese culture, which is always a nice bonus to reading books by foreign writers. It’s also a short book so it’s one of those bite-sized stories that you can finish in a day, which is kind of fun! It didn’t take me long to read this book and I liked that I could just dip my toe into this world. With the kind of story it is, I didn’t feel like it was too short or that I didn’t get enough out of it.
I would definitely recommend this book, especially to those who like little slice-of-life stories, or books about Asian culture.
Thoughts & Thanks:
Thank you so much for reading my review! I hope I’ve helped aid you in your decision to read this book. If you have read it or if you’re thinking about reading it, let me know what you thought in the comments! And as always, happy reading!