The two medium-length works of literary fiction in this volume center on women who are the product of broken homes in childhood. The title work, which was awarded the Dazai Osamu Prize, stands out for the way in which it seeks to upend readers’ preconceptions about gender issues.
First-person narrator Ena, 25, completed a 30-month contract term as a clerical worker for a small electronics maker at the end of September. She has idled away the three months since then at her apartment in Tokyo, more interested in finding an opportune moment to move back in with her mother in Chiba than in looking for a new job.
The story begins with a clear break in a relationship Ena had been carrying on since shortly after she had started the job, with someone she does not name but refers to as “the one I love.” The relationship had in fact cooled quite some time ago, even before she left the company, but when she learns through the grapevine that “the one I love” has a newborn daughter, she feels betrayed. For much of the story that follows, her narrative leads readers to think that “the one I love” must refer to Kazuyuki Takarada, 45, Ena’s boss at work, but in a surprise twist near the end, we learn that the person is in fact Kazuyuki’s wife Ryōko. The relationship between Ryōko and Ena had begun as that of a piano teacher and her student, with Kazuyuki making the initial introductions.
Ena has had difficulty establishing and maintaining healthy relationships ever since an incident that took place when she was 12: with her mother away at work, her father, who was at home due to an illness, had thrown her out of a second-story window and knocked her unconscious. The trauma led Ena to suffer from haphephobia (fear of being touched), a condition she continues to contend with today. She remains unable to touch adult members of the opposite sex, and her relationship with Ryōko as well had never become physical. Even in the relationships she does manage to establish, she has a tendency to cut ties before she can get hurt.
Ena’s parents got divorced when she was 13, after which she lived with her mother, who was always concerned with protecting her from her father. So she is surprised when her mother, who has secretly kept in touch with her father, calls to say he is dying and she should come see him. Ena refuses, and in anger her mother reveals that she has always suspected Ena of trying to seduce her father in the incident when she was 12. In a state of shock, Ena cancels the job interview she’s finally landed and shuts herself up at home.
Ena’s only friend is Kazuyuki Hayashi, whom she met as a classmate in junior college. Since graduating, Hayashi has been working by day as a male childcare worker, but dresses up after-hours as a woman who goes by the name of Melissa. As Melissa, he has been a pillar of support for Ena, giving her pep talks and rescuing her repeatedly from difficulties. In her great agitation following her mother’s revelation, Ena asks Hayashi to come over. After first whining about being unloved and demanding that he make love to her against his will, she spurns him at the last moment. He departs in anger, feeling used and deeply hurt.
Disgusted with herself but still feeling unloved, Ena calls Ryōko to try to win back her affections—by blackmailing her. Ryōko effectively laughs her off, but their exchange also leads Ena to realize that both Ryōko and Hayashi are confronting life head-on in ways she has never done. Determined to turn over a new leaf, she decides to call Hayashi, and the story closes on a positive note. With breathtaking meticulousness, new author Akari Itō portrays a young woman whose self-destructive impulses continually spin out of control until finally she appears to have found a path to redemption.