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When Hitomi takes a job on the cash register of a neighbourhood thrift store, she finds herself drawn into a very idiosyncratic community. There is Mr Nakano, an enigmatic ladies' man with several ex-wives; Masayo, Mr Nakano's sister, an artist who has never married; and her fellow employee Takeo, a shy but charming young man. Every day, customers from the neighbourhood pass in and out as curios are bought and sold, each one containing its own surprising story. When Hitomi and Takeo begin to fall for one another, they find themselves in the centre of their own drama - and on the edges of many others.
A tender and affecting exploration of the mystery that lurks in the ordinary, this novel traces the seemingly imperceptible threads that weave together a community, and the knots that bind us to one another.
In this gentle novel, Kawakami uses a series of vignettes to chronicle a girl's time working at Mr. Nakano's secondhand store in Tokyo. Soon after she's hired, Hitomi begins dating Takeo, a coworker who proudly describes himself as "just simple." Hitomi wonders how to have a carefree conversation with him to overcome the awkwardness that leads him to respond to her messages with: "I'm fine. Hope you are too." Despite this struggle to navigate their shared inexperience, frank sexuality is inescapable at the shop. One customer brings in photographs of "a man and a woman, naked and intertwined," and Mr. Nakano asks Hitomi to read the "totally pornographic" novel his mistress has written to help answer his question: "Are all women really so damned erotic?" Even at their strangest, these interactions are rendered calmly by Kawakami in pleasant, leisurely prose. The progression of events is hardly dynamic, and those quotidian rhythms are reflected in Hitomi's emotional life. Her relationship with Takeo remains forever "out of sync," leaving her to conclude that "love is idiotic, anyway." Rather than describing an awakening, Kawakami is interested in the experience of working an incidental job, and that allows each moment to stand on its own without having to shoulder greater meaning. "The hourly wage wasn't much," Hitomi muses, "but it was consistent with the amount of effort required."