Convenience Store Woman

I've known about this book for a little while now, I'm glad I was able to get around to it. The translation I read was by Ginny Tapley Takemori, which might be the only English version so it probably doesn't matter much. I heard that it was about an autistic woman who landed a job in retail, relying on the routine for years until people questioned her lack of mobility, which sounded neat and relatable. As an autistic person myself, I like to know what other people's perspectives of autism are, whether firsthand, secondhand, or media portrayals. I was optimistic about the story's representation since I heard quite a few autistic women praise it.

First and foremost, I think it's important to address the disappointment I had with the "autistic" representation. The book itself never once explicitly mentions autism, nor does it indirectly reference any illness for that matter, probably for good reason. Yet, the consensus seems to be that the book is a pillar of autistic literature. It gets recommended primarily in the context that it's for autistic representation. In my opinion, I think this is a misrepresentation. Maybe it's a little indecorous of me to diagnose fictional characters, but I believe Keiko has schizoid personality disorder rather than high-masking autism. Not that I blame anyone for confusing them, nor do I stigmatize either of them. They have a large overlap and they get professionally misdiagnosed for each other all the time. It makes perfect sense why the consensus would be so confused between the two. Especially given the context that the book came out in 2016, right before most of the research about autism in adult women became common discourse. And also considering not many people know much about schizoid personality disorder still to this day. I can totally understand how someone with undiagnosed autism could read Convenience Store Woman, have many of their lifelong frustrations with conformist society echoed back at them, and feel validated by or identify with it. At the end of the day, though, I think it's an inaccurate projection as a result of inadequate mental health education. This is a book review not an argumentative essay on why I think Keiko is schizoid (unless people want me to write about it some other time), plus I don't think I'm very qualified to educate about the ASD/schizoid PD overlap, so I'm just going to leave a couple articles on the topic linked if you're curious about schizoid PD yourself:
Neurodivergent insights - Misdiagnosis Monday
HelpGuide - Schizoid PD / Counselling Directory UK - Schizoid PD (good info, but from 2014 and no author listed)

It irks me a bit that the schizoid/autist confusion could lead to some perpetuation of harmful autistic stereotypes. Mainly the overexaggeration of autists being emotionless and unempathetic. The first example that comes to mind is when Keiko casually contemplated knifing her sister's baby as the most practical solution to shut it up. Reading that made me roll my eyes and groan, to be honest.

Beyond the schizoid/autist thing, I still quite enjoyed the story. For what it was, I felt the pacing was appropriate. With Keiko as the narrator, it makes sense to me why every event was presented succinctly and repetitively. Utilitarian is the word I would use to describe the writing style, which I found endearing more than boring. The writing became attractive and flowery only when describing the store, aligning with Keiko's character ideals. Not sure how much can be attributed to the original author or the translator though. Similarly, the other characters' shallowness didn't feel out of place because Keiko was never interested in anyone's lives. Enough happened to get me sufficiently immersed and attached, and it never felt like it was overstaying its welcome.

I read it in two days, finishing yesterday, and I'm glad I decided to sit on it for a day before writing about it. Immediately after finishing it left a really bitter taste in my mouth. I was thinking about how I was going to write all my grievances with misrepresentation, conformity, acephobia, dull misguided misogynistic incel-isms, ageism, masking, gender roles, etc. Basically instead I came to the conclusion that the book was supposed to make me feel uncomfortable and sort of accepted it. It doesn't make me feel any better, but it does make me appreciate the art's innate ability to influence my emotions. Plus, it'd be redundant to rant negatively about all the things the book already just scorned, even moreso when those themes already aren't exactly original. Which is fine too, since stories' merits come from how they are told, not what they are telling.

However, that still won't stop me from criticizing the ending. The whole ending is supposed to be this wonderful setup where Keiko finally realizes what she really enjoys, cuts off Shiraha, goes back to the convenience store occupation, beats depression, and refuses to conform to age/gender expectations. Y'know, it's phrased like a happy ending through and through. I don't know, I see this ending as pretty sad, and I'm actually angry at it. I think it's great that she ditches Shiraha and decides conformity sucks, don't get me wrong. What's wack is that her whole ultimate happiness is going back to a comfortable safe routine where she knows how to mask effectively. She never actually achieves the "cure" or the change she said she wanted 20 pages prior. She never actually feels comfortable enough, or finds the right people in her life, to be honest about herself. She never actually addresses what she will do when she gets too old and frail to work. I'm angry that the story glorifies living insincerely in order to avoid disturbing the peace. I believe that's a damaging message to convey.

All in all, the story was fun to read. The unique combination of blunt writing and the slow descent into social and domestic ruin made the book feel as though it was souring and curdling like milk in my hands, which is scarcely something I can say about any other story. Apprehensively I admit that I wish it wasn't paraded as exemplary autistic literature, because it's not and it sends the wrong signals.