I’m gonna be honest; I put off starting the last section until the middle of the week because I didn’t want the book to end… It’s been so much fun not only reading through the novel, but discussing it in such depth with everyone on the forum. I’m glad we’re getting a bonus week to discuss コンビニエンスストア様. Thank you so much @jhol613 for getting this repeat club together and running the read aloud sessions! And thank you to everyone here who pushed through to the end with this book! It definitely wasn’t always smooth sailing. Like several others, this is my first Japanese novel I’ve read beginning to end, and I don’t think I could have done it without everyone’s enthusiasm and participation.
Now, for my final thoughts (in which you KNOW I ramble at least a little).
A happy ending or a sad ending? To be honest, when we first started reading this book, the ending I had in mind (and that I was hoping for) was that Keiko would ultimately end up shirking off others’ expectations for her and do what she loves, which was working at the コンビニ. Despite getting what I wanted, I felt torn. Like others, that moment where she’s in her dress suit pretending to be from corporate and telling the girl at the store what needs to get done cemented the idea that she could really go far with her コンビニ skills. On the one hand, I could take that scene as a kind of foreshadowing; maybe that kind of work is in her future somewhere. It bothered me, then, when she told Shiraha that she was a コンビニ店員; at the very least, she should be a 店長 and get that coin. She mentions how much her savings had dwindled after quitting, and she never answered the sister-in-law’s question about insurance.
I mentioned this during the read aloud session, which led me to a realization: those desires for Keiko to be “more” are no different from those that others place upon Keiko in the book. Her job isn’t “enough,” and her desire to continue living the life she’s carved herself isn’t “enough”; she should be doing more. So, even though I think she’s capable of quite a bit within the realm of the コンビニ, if the work of a 店員 is what she most desires in life, then that’s what she should pursue. Besides, if she got a corporate job, that’d only mean less time in an actual store, which is the environment she feels most at home in.
Keiko’s use of the terms 人間 versus 動物 in her final remarks to Shiraha are interesting.
The way it’s phrased, it’s like being a 店員 for her is a higher calling, but one she thinks of on a very physical level, which she mentions not only in this section, but in last week’s reading when she was observing her wounds from working at the store, among other things. I can see how people might think it’s strange, but I think it’s actually, believe it or not, quite human to do this sort of thing. A lot of people might say they’re an artist, for example, and that makes them more than just a man or a woman. For whatever reason, it’s socially acceptable to think this way for certain careers over others, perhaps based on prestige/wealth. People would think it’s natural if someone identified themselves like this in terms of being a doctor or minister. Artist is probably more dependent on success, but there will still be a sizable number of people who wouldn’t try to invalidate you or give you strange looks. When people devote their lives to pursuits in these fields, people don’t really think that’s strange. Start telling people that everything inside of you is telling you to go into sanitation, for instance, and you’ll probably be met with some dubiousness, especially if you show the same level of devotion as a doctor to a hospital. If Keiko was a painter and lived and breathed her artwork like she did the コンビニ, would people think she was just as odd for pursuing that? I have my doubts.
Getting back to her phrasing, though, she goes from “more than human” to “animal,” and I don’t quite know what to make of it. I suppose that’s why it’s hard for me to completely see this as a “happy” or “sad” ending. She clearly has an almost psychic connection with the needs of a store, which signifies her level of skill (very much agree with @NyappyTiramisu that it could hardly be called unskilled labor). Does the change in word correspond to a level of separation? “Humans” being more distant, and “animals” less so? That’s almost like a humans vs. nature comparison, though the コンビニ is hardly nature. Still, she absorbs so much of it, and lives her life with it in mind throughout the book, that the change in word might be a reaffirmation of that level of dedication and purpose. (These thoughts aren’t going to end up being my “final” thoughts at all, are they?)
I don’t see the ending as things going back to the way they were. She did the job she wanted to back at the start of the book, but she wasn’t living a life that she truly wanted. A lot of those pieces were ones she incorporated into her life because she felt like she needed to fit in. With that baggage gone, she’s reborn into her life as a コンビニ店員, only this time she can live without the internalized judgment of others. (Sounds easier than that actually is, I know.)
Finally, I’m not going to lie, when she said 「あなたはまったく必要ないんです」to Shiraha, I shouted out loud, I was so happy. For all his wordy speeches, he very much is someone who knows of society’s BS, but is too afraid to do anything about it. Hence his desire to “hide.” However, his plan seemed to be to ultimately hide somewhat within the framework of the society he complained about. Sure, he wasn’t crafting a traditional setup where the man works and the woman raises the children (of which they probably wouldn’t ever have had, anyway), but from that conversation with Keiko’s “friends,” there was still a level of acceptability to it. Ugh, I greatly disliked him and how he spoke to Keiko, but on some level I enjoyed disliking him, even if it was only so I could relish the fact that even Keiko, who he says “isn’t human,” has no need for him in her life.
I think that’s all I can muster for now. I’ll probably still be turning over different parts of the book for a while. This was one of the most satisfying books I’ve read in a long time (though I wish the ending didn’t happen as quick as it did. Part of me did want to see her in that interview and maybe do another job. I do think that there isn’t really a test of whether the コンビニ is the place for her. It was the only job she ever had, then she was depressed when she quit. But because it’s her only work experience, would becoming adept at another type of job prove just as fruitful and purposeful to her? Then again, if you know what you love, why waste time doing something else? See, those weren’t my final thoughts!