Convenience Store Woman, best-selling Japanese author Sayaka Murata’s first novel to be translated into English, is a compact and adept examination of social pressures in Japan that also resonates deeply across cultures and language. Murata’s protagonist, Keiko Furukura, is a social misfit who finds herself reborn at age 18 when she begins working at the Hiiromachi Station Smile Mart convenience store. With the help of corporate training manuals (and lots of copying others), she masters the social demands of her controlled environment and passes for a “normal person” with a perfectly timed “Irasshaimase!” (Welcome!) or “Hai!” (Yes!). Now 36, and unburdened with the desire to move up, or move on, Keiko is in a sublime stasis, the single constant in the living organism of the 24-hour convenience store that casts off coworkers, managers, and customers like so many dead cells. As she proudly describes, “I feel like I’m as much a part of the store as the magazine racks or the coffee machine.”
The serenity of Keiko’s synthetic environment is threatened when her younger sister has a baby and the pressure on her to be more ambitious or to settle down and marry increases. Things are further complicated when Shirahara, a young “freeter” (slacker), takes a job at the store and eventually inserts himself in her life. While walking through these pages in Keiko’s shoes, readers are guaranteed not only a deeper understanding of “konbini” (convenience store) culture but also a humorous and critical look at modern Japanese society in a way that is pertinent to each of our experiences. At once pathetic and enviable, Keiko becomes an indelible hero for social outcasts everywhere through her quiet refusal to acquiesce to the pressures around her.
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