Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata: A review
Earthlings, that it put me off reading this one. Consequently, this little gem had languished in my TBR stack for almost a year. But this is a new year and, determined to clear out my backlog of books to be read, I picked it up and began to read. Now I'm wondering why it took me so long.
Eighteen-year-old Keiko Furukura has never fit in anywhere, not in her family and not in school, because she has never been able to comprehend the rules of social interaction. She comes to understand that "The normal world has no room for exceptions and always quietly eliminates foreign objects. Anyone who is lacking is disposed of. So that's why I need to be cured. Unless I'm cured, normal people will expurgate me." She thinks of herself as that "foreign object" that needs to be "cured." She apprehends that in order to survive she needs to be able to mimic the social exchanges of those "normal" people.
Her salvation comes when she finds a job at the local branch of the Smile Mart convenience store. At the store, she has a manual to guide her behavior. That manual lays out step by step, line by line, how she is supposed to behave with people. For the first time in her life, she becomes one of the team and finds purpose and contentment.
She is so contented that she stays in that job for eighteen years. At age thirty-six though, her family as well as her coworkers at the store are expecting her to find a husband, settle down, and raise a family. And once again Keiko is facing the dilemma of trying to meet society's expectations.
Around this time, the store hires another one of society's misfits, a man who admits that he only took the job because his family is pressuring him to get married and he needs to search for a wife. He hates the store and is lackadaisical about the duties assigned to him with the predictable result that he is soon dismissed. Keiko who loves and identifies with the store cannot understand his attitude. But she needs a boyfriend in order to get her family off her back and so she and the man come to a mutually beneficial, if platonic, arrangement. So, how does it all work out? You'll have to read the book.
That won't take long because it is a short book, less than 200 pages. Quirky doesn't even begin to describe it! It really is a sweet story of the struggle of a person with a different psyche to understand what it is that society wants and expects from her. It's a sentiment that I think a lot of us can probably identify with. Haven't we all felt like misfits from time to time? The tone of the book is satirical and wry and as well as being a personal story, it seems to be a commentary on class and gender inequity in Japan and the problems that that engenders. Society values conformity and, as Keiko observed, it doesn't tolerate "foreign objects."
An interesting side note is that the author wrote this book while she herself was working in a convenience store, and, apparently, she still works there part-time. Since the work helped to inspire this wonderful little book, I'd say it is time well-spent.
My rating: 5 of 5 stars