Convenience Store Woman, by Sayaka Murata

36605525Keiko Furukura has an unusual flaw. Though she’s intelligent, she doesn’t understand other people. Ever since she was a child, she had a hard time knowing how to act, how to speak, how to emote, how to just be in the world. But she seems to have found a place for herself in Convenience Store Woman, by Sayaka Murata (translated by Ginny Tapley Takemori). As an employee of Smile Mart, Keiko performs the role of a thirties-something part-time convenience store worker. She functions well enough, until the day when he meets the reprehensible Shiraha and realizes that her friends and family keep asking when she’s going to get married.

I really enjoyed reading about neuro-atypical Keiko. Once I stopped trying to diagnose her (I couldn’t help it; I took a semester of psychology as an undergrad), I learned to see through her eyes. She’s a scientist who constantly studies the people around her to learn how to be “normal.” She adopts mannerisms and speech patterns from the people around her. Essentially, she’s been acting her entire life, because her default state is affectless, unambitious, baffling, and occasionally frightening to the people she meets and her family. In the same way that she doesn’t understand people, they don’t understand her. The chance to look at society through Keiko’s eyes reveals a lot about how inexplicable most cultural norms are.

Shiraha, on the other hand, does not try to fit in. He is an awful person, straight from a red pill reddit thread. He talks about the Stone Age constantly to “explain” why men and women are expected to behave in certain ways, sneers at any kind of gainful employment, and is basically a dick. And yet, Keiko is willing to put up with him because having a “boyfriend” makes her life a bit easier. People stop wondering about her quite so much because she suddenly makes sense to them.

But as Convenience Store Woman develops, it becomes clear that Keiko is in an untenable position. Does she keep up the charade? Or does she insist on being who she is, in spite of the social consequences? I also felt a little bit of extra tension because most of the Japanese literature I’ve read lately had me worried about the possibility of things taking a turn for the macabre. (At the risk of spoiling things, I’m happy to report that no one dies in this book.) I wasn’t sure what to expect from Convenience Store Woman. What I found turned out to be interesting, unusual, and moving. I really liked this novella.

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley, for review consideration. It will be released 12 June 2018.

Notes for bibliotherapeutic use: Recommend to readers who would like to understand a neuro-atypical mind.

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