Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata (Grove Press)

My wife has been a convenience store worker for over ten years of her life so I couldn't resist reading this book. Fortunately for me, my wife is nothing like Keiko Furukawa, the protagonist of this story. Keiko seems to be different even as a child. When other children cry over a dead bird, Keiko doesn't feel the same emotion and asks her mother if they can take it home and use it to make yakitori (grilled chicken on a skewer). She says to her mother, “Father likes yakitori so we should make it for him.” She can't understand why all the other children are sad because to her it's just a bird. (I'm glad to say that my wife would not think of making yakitori from a dead bird for me either.)

When Keiko grows older, she knows that she isn't like other people. However, all she wants to do is fit in and be a “cog in the machine”. So when a new convenience store opens near her university, her sister suggests that she should work there. For Keiko, it's the perfect opportunity to be the kind of person everyone expects her to be. All she has to do is follow the job manual, as if the manual was her bible of how to live and act. It tells her exactly what she has to do and what she should say.  Looking at her co-workers, she begins to copy their speech patterns and the way they dress because she thinks that will make her a normal person who will function in society for everyone's benefit.

Flash forward eighteen years:  Keiko is still working part-time at the convenience store. She has never had a boyfriend, she has few friends, she doesn't have any hobbies but she really enjoys her life. She has no complaints. However she knows she's not living up to other people's expectations, certainly not her mother’s nor her sister’s. Still she continues to do her best to live her life as they expect her to.

When the manager of the convenience store hires a young man who feels that working at a convenience store is below him and that people who work there are “losers”, Keiko takes it upon herself to try to show him how things are done. However, the manager and other employees can’t tolerate his unwillingness to do anything and he's eventually fired.

When Keiko meets her old co-worker a few months later and finds that he has no place to stay, she offers to let him stay at her apartment. As she has no experience with men, she calls her sister, who of course is overly excited at the prospect of Keiko finally finding a man. Her co-workers and even her boss, who up to now hasn't shown much interest in her life outside the convenience store, are curious about how the two got together.  Everyone wonders if they're going to get married, have kids, and do everything else one would expect of a couple living a normal life.

Sayaka Murata's first book kept me intrigued;  I couldn't stop reading until I found myself at the end of the story. The author is still a part-time worker at a convenience store which inspired her to write this novel. It also won her the prestigious Akutagawa Prize in Japan, which is not an easy accomplishment. If you want something new and fresh to read, then I recommend that you read about the life of a Convenience Store Woman.~Ernie Hoyt