Convenience Store Woman is a small story both in that it is about a single (individual) woman in the bustling metropolis of Tokyo and it’s also less than two hundred pages. I read it in a single evening in a single sitting, so fast my rear end barely had time to fall asleep. I was never entirely sure what I was reading, but I also didn’t mind my own confusion.
The main character, Keiko, has worked at a local convenience store for eighteen years, half her life, and she’s never felt at home anywhere else. She’s never understood how to be properly a person- what to her are natural reactions to events have been deeply troubling to her parents and sister. She recognizes that her responses are inappropriate but she can’t figure out why so she stops responding. When she needs a job she gets one at the local convenience store and that’s where things finally make sense.
The store has instructions for everything. What to say, how to say it, how to greet a customer. What order tasks are to be done in, how the store needs to look at all times – everything is completely laid out for her and she finally understands. Here is a full manual of what she can do to be perceived as normal. Except it isn’t enough, because society and society’s expectations don’t end when she clocks out. Keiko responds as best she can, in her own way with what is logical to her, and it’s … well, it is.
Anyway. Murata is a very prominent Japanese novelist and this is the first of her works to be translated into English. I’m really glad I had the opportunity to read her work and be exposed to this whole new voice. I’ve certainly never read anything like it from an American author.