This is a collection of five stories linked by the death of a young boy in a traffic accident.
In Summer: Chieko’s Story, the eponymous Chieko, 28, is working as a temp at a publishing house when she meets married editor Kenji, 39, and they begin an illicit affair. A woman friend and colleague repeatedly urges her to end the relationship, but Chieko is unable to give up her feelings for Kenji. Then one day, suddenly, she can no longer reach Kenji. Several months go by, and the relationship resumes as if nothing had happened. Kenji tells her he has been out of touch because his wife “hit a little boy with her car, and the boy ended up dying.” They continue seeing each other until one day Kenji shows up at her apartment uncharacteristically wearing a suit, which he explains by saying it’s the first anniversary of the boy’s death: he and his wife have been to visit the boy’s family and pay their respects. They had gone expecting to be vilified by the single mother, who had raised the boy all by herself since getting divorced, but there had not been a single harsh word from the woman. “On the way back, I threw up at the side of the road,” he adds, smiling faintly as tears brim in his eyes. Something in his manner fills Chieko with desire, and they make mad, passionate love. Realizing afterward that Kenji had not used protection, Chieko goes to the emergency room to get a prescription for the morning-after pill. When the severe side effects of taking the emergency contraception wear off, Chieko breaks up with Kenji as if she has been exorcised of a possessive spirit.
In Autumn: Yoshino’s Story, the point of view shifts to the dead boy’s mother, and in the stories that follow the perspectives shift again—to Kenji; to Kenji’s wife, Misato; and to Kōichi, a random witness to the accident. Each narrative gently probes the psychology of the point-of-view character as it follows him/her through the days—the adulterous couple each in their turn, the woman who killed a young boy in a traffic accident, the mother who lost her child, and the witness who experienced an epiphany “like a momentary ray between the clouds.” When people come face-to-face with the death of another, they often become more aware of their own sins, and wonder how they can atone. It is a work that lingers in the reader’s mind long after the last page is turned.