This is especially true if you don’t follow the herd, if you don’t live like everyone else, and if you decide to do this, you open yourself up to ridicule and pity regardless of how you see your life. This is the main tenet in Sayaka Murata’s novel Convenience Store Woman. In the span of only 180ish pages Murata had me feeling some kind of way about how we as a society deem the norm. It was eye opening, even for someone such as myself. I’d like to think I don’t run in the pack of norms, but I have to admit I’m not as out there when compared to modern Western society. However, the Eastern culture is vastly different and in the end more strict about what they consider normal (or being a functioning member of society) this is what made this story so compelling.
At the age of 18 Keiko Furukura gets a job in a convenience store. This was mainly to appease her growing uneasy family who worried that she would never manage to function in society, but now 18 years later her family is again worried. Keiko is now 36 years old, unmarried, and still working part-time in the same convenience store. She is an amazing worker and loves the environment and dependability that the convenience store brings her life. But those around her see it in a different way.
While her sister and parents worry about her finding a husband and having kids before it’s too late, Keiko is only worried about if the deliveries for the store come on time and if the customers are happy. But outside of the convenience store she sees what everyone else sees and over the years she has done her best to “fix” that part of herself. From picking up the habits of her fellow co-workers in order to blend in at social engagements, to lying about why she has remained in the life she leads for so long just to not be labeled a “freak.”
GOOD POINT: I loved seeing this story from Keiko’s POV. It was interesting to have her inner monologue, not to justify her lifestyle, but to simply explain that she was happy with who she was and that this was all she would need despite everyone else’s issues with it. By doing this, all the other people in Keiko’s life begin to look like the weird outcasts and you realize that she is probably the most normal of them all.
In order to test the theory of society basically, Keiko invites a man to stay with her to see what, if any, kind of reaction would be had by her friends and family. You can’t help but cringe as both her family and friends immediately think she is getting married to this guy (note that he plays along with this and encourages it) even though they know he is unemployed and expects to remain as such. The way they see it, she’s actually doing what a woman in her place should be doing, that is getting married and eventually having kids.
I mean, who cares if the guy is actually good for her, am I right? And it was incredible to see that she didn’t even need to have a physical relationship with the guy. She didn’t want that and neither did he. She doesn’t even bring him to social events, instead just telling people the bare minimum and watching them create their own elaborate stories surrounding their “relationship.” Even going so far as to give advice that she must take in order for this to work. It was all very Stepford Wife, but much more realistic.
The feelings that this causes Keiko are best summed up in this quote:
“She’s far happier thinking her sister is normal, even if she has a lot of problems, than she is having an abnormal sister for whom everything is fine.”
GOOD POINT: I like that this didn’t have the stereotypical ending with the man “fixing” the woman’s problems. In fact, more than anything he made it worse for her. He even states that now that she has moved to the point of having a man, getting rid of him would look even worse than having never invited him into her life at all. And this is so accurate! But she manages to not give a fuck about that and decides that she would rather be “abnormal” and happy than “normal” and unhappy and I was here for it!
The story reads quick, both because it is short, but also because the writing was smooth and transitioned to each bit really well. I was nervous about what the reading would be like as it was translated from its native Japanese to English and sometimes that doesn’t always go well. I was happy that it was able to get it’s story across while still capturing the fact that it was a Japanese Woman’s story and that is who you are meant to be relating to. Murata is a masterful story teller and describes with precision what life is like in Eastern societies especially for women.
I am ecstatic that I read this and I will most definitely encourage others to do so as well.
BAD POINT: Women do not have it easier!
5 Out of 5 Stars
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