A convenient inconvenience?: Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata

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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 that 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?

That blurb! I’d like to know the amount of people it fooled into believing that this book is a quirky romance. I know it did me! It’s fine though, because it’s infinitely better than any romance could be.

Actually, I take it back. This book is a romance- it’s just one between Keiko and her convenience store. Yep. It’s very heart warming.

It begins ever so slightly, tracing the steps of a shopper in a convenience store through the ears of our experienced sociopathic store worker of 18 years, expecting his every move and being perfectly right in her expectations. This is accompanied with the sonorous patter of steps, tills, vending machines, all with that knee-quaking Doppler effect. Few things are as pleasing. I admit, I love convenience stores. I fantasize about working in retail.

This is a small sliver of a book, simply told, fully fascinating, sometimes disturbing and very frustrating. What follows is our entrance into the life of this person so detached from any human emotion, living in the family-focused Japanese society. It’s a thin wobbly line she’s treading and, in many ways, tests us, the reader, as to what we’re willing to accept and assimilate. Even within the Western individuality-is-king realm I occupy, I wanted for Keiko, no matter if she didn’t.

It’s a drawn-out struggle between this surrounding demanding society and our clueless Keiko flailing around poorly to keep things afloat. It’s hard to relate to Keiko (unless you are a socio/psychopath, in which case, rejoice) and often agonizing and as the book progresses, it only escalates. It often feels like you’re playing a game of tug of war within yourself, with whoever at one end and you, good intentioned and noble, at the other- pulling your weight for Keiko. Except Keiko is the rope. She’s the one you’re pulling at.

All of this (and more) this book manages while being utterly simplistic. It lifts all its depth by capsizing on the readers framework, our innate human needs and upbringing, and the resultant managing of a thing called ourselves within society.

Who wins? You’d have to read the book to find out, but I can assure, it stays true to the book and hits you square in the face.

I would like to suggest, despite myself, this book as a book club read- it would do spectacularly. It requires a reading of yourself as an occupant in human society and then further. It’ll set off a million questions, such as: what role does nurture play in neutralizing (I mean this in the kindest possible way possible) sociopaths and what are we doing SO wrong that we create psychopaths instead? And, what do our set of norms do to us? In this world where tons are being eroded and challenged, are there any that should definitely stay?? What all kinds of human (maybe to even include AI?) are we willing to accommodate and encompass? I can’t even begin to imagine the takeaways it will spark. Morality, creation, God, it’ll go all up in there.

As a bonus, this could be paired with the movie Thoroughbreds, and then compared on how it handles the two characters of a similar kind in a different societal state of mind. How does it reflect on their actions (there is a world of a difference) and how does it affect us (most likely yeah?) non-sociopaths? It’ll blow you, and if it doesn’t, i’ll do it.

So, you think i should start a book club?

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