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Sayaka Murata’s ‘Convenience Store Woman’

Author’s Comic Novel Imbued with Devilish Sense of Humor

<em>Convenience Store Woman</em>
Courtesy Photo

Keiko Furukura is a 36-year-old employee of a Tokyo convenience store. She’s been working at her job for 18 years, and readers — like all of Keiko’s family and friends — might expect that she would be ready to move on to the next phase of her life. Nothing, however, could be further from the truth. She loves every minute of her workday, reveling in mundane tasks such as replacing missing price tags and restocking the display cabinets. At night, she dreams of the convenience store, for it is only there, she confesses, that she can be what she longs to be: “a cog in society,” that is to say, “a normal person.”

The story is told from Keiko’s point of view, and though she never comes out and says it, she clearly suffers from some form of high-functioning autism. The writing, therefore, is often like Keiko’s affect: flat and, from a social perspective, rather clueless. That might sound like a big problem for a comic novel, but author Sayaka Murata has a devilish sense of humor, even if her protagonist doesn’t. Ironies abound throughout Keiko’s day, but she plows through them, doing her best to seem “normal.”

Of course, what Murata wants us to know is that Keiko has every right to live her life in the narrow confines of the convenience store, as long as she is happy. When Keiko’s sister lays into her unemployed and eminently unsuitable boyfriend, Keiko realizes that her sister is “far happier thinking [Keiko] is normal, even if she has a lot of problems, than she is having an abnormal sister for whom everything is fine.”

Convenience Store Woman benefits from its brevity — it’s closer to a novella than a novel — but it’s just the right length to convey an episode in the life of a woman who, when she looks into the window of a convenience store, feels “all my cells stirring within my skin as they responded in unison to the music reverberating on the other side of the glass.”

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