“And so, believing that I had to be cured, I grew into adulthood.”
Keiko, the protagonist of Convenience Store Woman, is pretty wild. Author Sayaka Murata created a wonderfully singular protagonist with piercing and sometimes bizarre insights into life. Have you ever thought that the best way to break up a fight is to knock both combatants out with a shovel? Keiko has. Have you then proceeded to knock them both out? Keiko has. Hence, the wildness.
Keiko experiences life differently than the other characters in Convenience Store Woman and that leads to trouble for her. The things that her family and friends want for her, she does not want for herself. All Keiko really wants is to work at the convenience store. As she ages, she faces increasing pressure to quit her job at the convenience store and do something normal for a woman her age.
This book is ostensibly about the conflict between an individual and society, but it is also a love story between a woman and a convenience store. Keiko and the convenience store are star-crossed lovers, just trying to stay together. On her first day as a convenience store worker, she feels that she has finally found a niche: “At that moment, for the first time ever, I felt I’d become a part in the machine of society. I’ve been reborn, I thought. That day I actually became a normal cog in society.” The tragic irony of Keiko’s story is that society doesn’t consider her choices acceptable even though she makes them in order to fit into society.
But back to the love story part. It’s basically Romeo and Juliet without dead bodies or one-off Queen Mab* references.
Keiko’s challenge, in this love story, is to escape society’s expectations. To that end, she cultivates a fake relationship that allows her to continue her romance with the convenience store. I won’t spoil it, but her fake relationship doesn’t exactly end like Daphne and Simon’s faux courtship in Bridgerton.
Sayaka Murata’s awesome book about the experience of living a life that others can’t understand is full of quirky humor and serious questions about economics and culture. The writing is zippy and fun. The minor characters are memorable, and the convenience store is described in amazing detail. If you’ve ever worked a job that overlaps in any way with a convenience store, you’ll recognize Keiko’s feelings and concerns. Feeling that you are not positioned well for the impending lunch rush will be familiar to anyone who has worked in food service. Noticing that the display is not optimized to showcase seasonal specials will be a familiar feeling to anyone who has ever worked in retail.
I would recommend Convenience Store Woman to anyone who has ever been frustrated by societal expectations. I would recommend it to anyone working a “dead end” job. I would recommend it to anyone. (also as an eAudiobook via Libby/OverDrive)
Murata’s books are slowly getting translated into English, so keep your eyes peeled for future titles. If you know Japanese, you can read them all right now. As an interesting final note, Murata worked at a convenience store for years, including during the writing of Convenience Store Woman!
*Act I, Scene 4
Ben Hamilton works at Project Literacy, Howard County Library’s adult basic education initiative, based at HCLS Central Branch. He loves reading, writing, walking, and talking (all the basics).