Friday, June 25, 2021

Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata

Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata

Convenience Store Woman (2016) is a novel by the Japanese author Sayaka Murata. I read the English version of the story, which was translated by Ginny Tapley Takemori. It’s the strange tale of Keiko Furukura, a 36-year-old woman who lives in Tokyo. Keiko works at a convenience store called Smile Mart. She started working at the store at age 18 and has worked there for half her life.

Growing up, Keiko has trouble understanding how to fit in, and her abnormal behavior shocks her family. As a child, when her classmates are crying over a dead bird found on their playground, Keiko doesn’t see any reason to mourn its death. She sees the dead bird as food and wants to cook it. When a fight takes place among her classmates, and the children want the fight to stop, Keiko steps in and hits one of the children with a shovel to stop the fight. Keiko has dark ideas that differ from those around her. Later on, as an adult, Keiko thinks of killing a baby to make it stop crying. These moments left me waiting for a dark twist as I read the story.

Keiko finds purpose in life when she is hired at Smile Mart, a 24-hour convenience store. The store has a calming order and routine, and Keiko follows the store’s manual to be a dedicated employee. She has little identity outside of the store. Keiko attempts to fit with people through careful observation and by mimicking others. She notices when she makes mistakes by watching the reactions of those around her, and she corrects her behavior to appear normal. Keiko is content with her life, but after 18 years working at the convenience store, her friends and family question her about her lack of ambition and encourage her to get a boyfriend and to get married and have children.

The novel’s themes reflect on how people must conform to societal pressures and norms. What happens when a person can’t fit in? In this story, Keiko finds her own unique ways to cope with her alienation from society by discovering peace and purpose in her convenience store.

However, Keiko’s careful world order falls apart when she meets a man named Shiraha at the store. He’s the opposite of Keiko. He’s a horrible employee, who is fired for his poor work ethic and for harassing customers. Beyond that, Shiraha is a misogynist and a cruel human being. Strangely, Keiko ends up taking Shiraha in and letting him live with her to meet society’s expectations. She calls him her boyfriend, and he lives off her. Keiko eventually leaves her job at the convenience store, but without the order of Smile Mart, how will Keiko find her way in life?

Purchase and read books by Sayaka Murata:

Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata Earthlings by Sayaka Murata


Monday, June 14, 2021

Black Wings Has My Angel by Elliott Chaze

Black Wings Has My Angel by Elliott Chaze

Black Wings Has My Angel
(1953) is a fantastic and fast-paced noir crime novel. After years being out of print, the story was republished by The New York Review of Books in 2016. I’ve read so many gems published in their New York Review Classics collection that I never would have discovered on my own. It was fun to read a classic of pulp fiction.

The novel follows the life of Kenneth McLure, aka “Tim Sunblade,” after his escape from prison. Initially, Tim is working on an oil rig on the Atchafalaya River. At his hotel, he meets “Virginia,” a call girl with lavender-grey eyes, a perfect figure, and a love of money. After spending a few days together, Tim and Virginia head West. Tim plans to ditch Virginia when he gets sick of her somewhere between Dallas and Denver, but Virginia outwits him and steals his money. Tim manages to track Virginia down, and after fighting viciously, the pair settle into a violent love-hate relationship. Neither one trusts the other, and both are prepared to backstab the other.

Tim was not always a cynic and hardened criminal. During the war, he spent 34 months in a Japanese prison camp on the Island of Luzon before being honorably discharged. After he returned home, he sold office supplies, but “blew his cork” and ended up in prison at Parchman. While locked up, he decided he was through being imprisoned and done with being poor. He and his friends Jeepie and Thompson planned an escape from Parchman, but Jeepie was shot in the head and killed during the escape. Tim is haunted by the memory of Jeepie’s bloody face.

After being locked up for so long, Tim expounds on nature as he reaches the West thinking,

“In the South the sky is humid and low and rich and it’s yours to smell and feel. In the West you’re only an observer. In the West someone sees a flower growing on a mountain and he writes a whole damned pamphlet about it. In the South the roses explode out of the weeds in the yards of the poorest shanties. Blood red ones.”

Chaze’s descriptions of the land are beautiful, striking, and real.

Although Tim is thoughtful and reflective, he is not destined for a quiet, crime-free life. He remembers all the details of his friend Jeepie’s plan to rob an armored truck. Tim wants to carry the plan out, but he needs a partner. He decides to trust Virginia after learning that she’s running from her own past in New York City where she was “reputedly the former mistress of a big-time underworld figure.” After weeks of careful planning, Tim and Virginia pull off their heist with Tim murdering the truck’s custodian. They make their way to Cripple Creek where they hide their crimes by sending the armored truck and dead body down an abandoned mine shaft.

Newly loaded with money, Tim and Virginia head to New Orleans. Despite his money and freedom, Tim finds their life there dissatisfying. Then Tim’s past begins to catch up with him when he runs into old neighbors from his hometown who recognize him as Kenneth. He’s reminded of his mother and how she cried over the change in him after he returned from the war with a shell splinter in his head. Eventually, Tim is drawn back by the ghosts of his past to his hometown. The story takes many unexpected twists and turns as Tim and Virginia try to escape their tragic fates.

Check out some other websites with info on the novel and Elliott Chaze:

Bill Pronzini on ELLIOTT CHAZE at Mystery*File
Review of Black Wings Has My Angel at Pulp Serenade
Review of Black Wings Has My Angel at His Futile Preoccupations

Purchase and read books by Elliott Chaze:

Black Wings Has My Angel by Elliott Chaze Little David by Elliott Chaze Mr. Yesterday by Elliott Chaze