Author: Sayaka Murata
Publisher: Grove Press
First Published: June 12, 2018
Convenience Store Woman is the heartwarming and surprising story of thirty-six-year-old Tokyo resident Keiko Furukura. Keiko has never fit in, neither in her family, nor in school, but when at the age of eighteen she begins working at the Hiiromachi branch of “Smile Mart,” she finds peace and purpose in her life. In the store, unlike anywhere else, she understands the rules of social interaction―many are laid out line by line in the store’s manual―and she does her best to copy the dress, mannerisms, and speech of her colleagues, playing the part of a “normal” person excellently, more or less. Managers come and go, but Keiko stays at the store for eighteen years. It’s almost hard to tell where the store ends and she begins. Keiko is very happy, but the people close to her, from her family to her coworkers, increasingly pressure her to find a husband, and to start a proper career, prompting her to take desperate action…
Keiko is a convenience store worker and, to the people around her, a bit of an oddball. She has worked part-time at the same store for her entire adult life with no aspirations to pursue a full-time career, she has no interest in romantic relationships or starting a family, she struggles with every day social interactions, and most of all–she’s satisfied with her life.
“She’s far happier thinking her sister is normal, even if she has a lot of problems than she is having an abnormal sister for whom everything is fine.”
Keiko often feels out of place, like she has to put on a mask while interacting with others. She has difficulty understanding people’s motivations and feelings, she struggles to hold conversations and to navigate social norms, she has no interest in marriage, and she feels most comfortable ordering her life according to a strict routine. While it is not stated explicitly, she exhibits signs of being both asexual as well as being on the spectrum.
To Keiko, her life is perfect, she’s happy, that should be what matters right? However, to the people around her, she just doesn’t make any sense. Convenience Store Woman is a story about not fitting in, about the pressure that society puts on people to conform to social standards of adulthood. Keiko is constantly worried about becoming an outsider and adjusts her behavior to fit in. The story is both heartwarming and also a little heartbreaking as the reader is pulled into Keiko’s world.
I can’t say anything more without spoiling the plot, but it is a charming book that I couldn’t put down. When I finished the last paragraph and turned the page I was distressed to find that there was no more, the book was over, and I felt a little sad how short the book was because I had become utterly invested in Keiko.
- Have you ever read Japanese literature?
- Do you find any of the themes of adulthood discussed relatable?
- Do books with asexual or autism representation interest you?