Why did Momoko, 79, kill her husband Takuto, 72, after a marriage of more than 50 years? Eight linked stories reflect on a half century in the life of their family as readers ponder the answer.
As the tale begins, Momoko and Takuto’s three middle-aged children have gathered at the izakaya pub that Momoko runs. Takuto’s body lies cold in the living quarters upstairs. Momoko has calmly described to them how she covered her drunken husband’s face with a wet towel, placed a pillow over it, and bore down on it with all her weight until he stopped struggling. She offers no explanation as to why she did this except to say that she saw it done on TV. The children are at a loss as to what to do. The narrative then steps back in time, beginning a retrospective of events from the family’s past that continues in shifting points of view through the next six stories, before the action returns to the present and everything is tied together in the final story.
Quite the handsome fellow in his youth, Takuto fancied himself a bohemian and never settled into a regular job. At various points in his life he styled himself a photographer or an illustrator or a travel writer, and most recently he claimed to be a novelist—though he had no publications to show for it. He had in fact helped out with the izakaya early on, but that had given way to frequent absences from home, and he carried on with an endless string of lovers, whom he would sometimes even bring home to drink with him.
Momoko was 27 and working as a high-school language arts teacher when she met Takuto, who was still in college at the time. He was seeing one of her students, and when she stepped in to defuse a bad situation, she effectively ended up stealing him away—with the ultimate result that she became pregnant and they got married.
In the final tale, the last of Takuto’s lovers, a book editor, is summoned. Told that something has happened to Takuto, she piles into a car with the family to go where he is, unaware that they are actually on the way to disposing of Takuto’s body—as well as her. On the way we learn that the only manuscript Takuto had shown her was a story about a woman doing everything in her power to snare her man. When they have reached a place deemed adequately remote, Momoko attempts to strangle the woman, but she manages to get away and seek help from a passerby as the story comes to a close.
In matters of the heart, explanations can be eternally elusive. Even after a marriage that lasted 50 years, it remains unclear whether the bond between Takuto and Momoko had ever been one of love, or if they had come together and stayed together from entirely different motives; how the reader comes to understand that question will color his or her sense of Momoko’s motive for the murder, which is never explicitly stated. The second through seventh stories also depict a variety of deeply complex relationship issues that the couple’s children go through, which appear to be rooted at least partly in their parents’ enigmatic dynamic. Author Areno Inoue probes the mysteries of the bonds between men and women with an incisive pen.