In this quirky and episodic novel, a young woman yearns for love in a thrift store full of oddities and odd characters.
Kawakami (Strange Weather in Tokyo, 2014, etc.) writes of Hitomi, a naïve cashier at the Nakano Thrift Shop, who falls for her co-worker, Takeo. “People scare me,” confides Takeo, who wants companionship with Hitomi but nothing more. Though Hitomi and Takeo find friendship on the common ground of Mr. Nakano’s unusual shop, Takeo is taciturn and reluctant; he’s uninterested in sex. (Their boss, Mr. Nakano, on the other hand, openly discusses his sexual exploits, multiple marriages and trips to visit “the Bank”—his mistress—to the chagrin of his employees.) Frustrated by Takeo’s reticence and lack of attention, Hitomi visits Mr. Nakano’s sister, Masayo, for advice. Masayo, who is in her 50s, attempts to explain to Hitomi how nobody can be taken for granted. “When I haven’t heard from someone for a while, the first thing that occurs to me is that they might have just keeled over. This was what Masayo had murmured when Takeo hadn’t been answering my calls,” Hitomi recalls. Masayo’s words prove to be prescient. Several items hint at the greater significance of Nakano’s thrift store, including an old set of photographs and an antique celadon bowl that’s cursed by a breakup. Each has a brief role in the story, but much of Kawakami’s work centers on Hitomi’s obsession with Takeo’s lack of romantic response. Another theme—art and its relationship to reality—is touched on briefly yet doesn’t come to fruition. Romantic discussions and concerns are surface-level. Characters in the novel have no real motivation to change, so the book becomes a static exercise in studying them as objects.
Charming and engrossing as a shop of curiosities but thin on meaningful change or conflict.