This book is my selection for the years 2000-Present.
I sped through Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata, translated by Ginny Tapley Takemori.
It’s a quick read at 163 pages and has a nice, tight focus on a loveable and quirky character, Keiko Furukura.
Thanks to constant anxiety overload due to coronavirus frenzy at work (and, let’s face, on social media, which I’ve been hounding ), my brain is not focused enough to provide my own blurb for you today.
So here’s part of the Goodreads summary:
“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?”
Weirdly, that bitter young man moves in with Keiko and kind of gets her family off her back because they think, “Oh, Keiko has a boyfriend; maybe she’s finally going to be normal now.” (Not a quote from the book, just ad-libbing). But he’s clearly taking advantage of her.
The saddest part of this book, to me, is that Keiko’s family want her to be “cured.” They see her as having something wrong with her that needs to be fixed. And because she’s unable to judge their treatment of her, she just believes them. It’s likely that Keiko has some form of autism and just hasn’t been diagnosed. And she certainly has not been treated or given any kind of care relevant to her condition. This is never resolved in the story.
When her boyfriend convinces her to quit her job at the convenience store, Keiko stops taking care of herself. She loses the thing that gives her life structure and her sense of purpose.
Keiko reclaims that sense of purpose when she finally realizes she needs to be a convenience store worker despite what others’ think of her. She sees this position as something she was made to do. So she shrugs off the faux boyfriend, goes back to working in a convenience store and, we are to assume, lives contentedly to the end of her days.
The ending is weird to me. If there were a moral of this story, it would be something like, “do what makes you feel most like yourself.” For Keiko, there is an intrinsic and indisputable identity to which one must conform in order to be happy with one’s life.
But, for me, that didn’t actually resolve all the issues in the book. What about Keiko’s family’s expectations? What about the fact that she can’t seem to function without the convenience store? What about the fact that she’s vulnerable to predators like the faux boyfriend and rather than seeing that she needed help to get out from under him, people were excited that she actually had a boyfriend?
I need answers, people.
Instead, the ending seemed to say, well, this particular woman is probably going to be OK, and you’ll have to be satisfied with that. I wasn’t really. But I’m not sad I read it either.