Video Book Review: Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata

Convenience Store Woman packs a wallop of a character study in its 163 pages.

This book is translated from Japanese, offering a look at the country’s culture, commerce, and societal expectations.

Keiko is in her 30s and works at a convenience store. It’s worth noting that convenience stores of Japan are AMAZING, apparently. They have fresh foods, rotating seasonal specialties, freshly ground coffee, shopping services, and more.

The convenience store is the perfect environment for her since she suffers from mental illness, most likely antisocial personality disorder, also known as sociopathy. She has trouble understanding emotions, feeling empathy, following social cues.

Working in a highly regimented convenience store is a great fit for Keiko. She has a script to follow with customers, including greetings and voice modulation. The workforce even rehearses their greetings and inspects their uniforms for cleanliness and, well, uniformity before each shift (a practice that I think is common in Japan). In a life in which Keiko has to almost play-act at her interactions with fellow humans, the standards of the convenience store are useful to her, and she in turn is a valuable addition to the store.

Luckily, Keiko also has a loving family who has armed her with stock answers to awkward questions, such as “Why aren’t you married?” or “Why do you work in a convenience store?”

Unfortunately, those questions represent her perceived shortcomings in fulfilling society’s expectations.

She feels regret at not having children or a better job. Then the store hires Shiraha, a man who acts like a black cloud on Keiko. In her, he finds a fellow outcast. He reminds her of this in almost every conversation. Keiko is a failure, he says, for not doing her part in having a family. And she believes him.

It made me so sad for Keiko. And so happy at the ending, which I won’t give away.

Convenience Store Woman
Sayaka Murata
Published June 2018
Grove Press

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