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January 2024: Convenience Store Woman

Tucked between the pages of Convenience Store Woman is a terrific novel, but for me, the execution leaves a lot to be desired.

The themes Murata probes at is what drew me in the most, specifically the expectations placed upon women, but I think these expectations also go beyond gender. Once you enter adulthood, there's pressure to reach certain milestones at certain ages, otherwise you are labeled as "weird", or, as described in the story, you are rejected by the greater "village." What's tragic is that many people do not want to conform to this way of life, and Furukura is one such example. The most heartrending sections of the book is when the treatment towards Furukura switch once Shiraha enters the picture. The confrontation Furukura has with her sister is a standout: how tragic it is that her sister would rather Furukura be in a dysfunctional romantic relationship than none at all. And though the events and characters are magnified to drive home Murata's ideas, this scene does reflect a reality. How many couples have you know that would rather be in a miserable relationship because they feel like this is what they "should" do than be single? It's a veneer that's maintained rather than shatter the illusion of reality. The illusion that Furukura struggles to navigate. Like I mentioned earlier I think that everybody can encounter this issue regardless of gender, but it feels especially poignant to have it centered around a woman. Society's wants for women are pretty unforgiving, and it's especially hard if you don't fit inside the box.

Even though Furukura finds comfort in the rules that govern the convenience store, there's something tragic about that to me. Perhaps it's how so much of her identity circles around her job? A chain store where she is easily replaceable at? It's frustrating how in reality she would probably be highly valued for her experience and eye for detail, but this is acknowledged by her or within the text. While some readers found the ending happy, with Furukura deciding to find employment at a convenience store once again, I found it bittersweet. On one hand it's nice that she refuses to be beholden by these rigid expectations other have set for her, but her identity will continued to be defined around being a cog in the machine. She may continue to be alienated as well, and I don't know if that's freedom.

I loved how Murata took no prisoners in regards to Shiraha lmao, he's just the worst. At the same time though, it's so real: some guy deep in incel culture who believes he's defying societial norms when in reality he just wants to take advantage of a woman's labor. Despite my feelings about Furuuara returning to the convenience, I'm happy she refused to follow through with Shiaha's pushing.

I wish that I had the ability to read this in the original Japanese. I found the prose to be awkward and choppy at times, which pulled me out of the story. This might be due to the translation, however. Other times I found the story to be repetitive, in a way that exceeded the point being made about the routine of convenience stores.

As I said earlier, there's another book within Convenience Store Woman that I enjoyed, but this wasn't quite it for me. Many others loved this and I can see why, so it might be missing something. However, I do wish that Murata leaned more into the dark whimsy, perhaps pushing the satire forward.