I’ll start by saying that the synopsis on the back cover is misleading, all true, but misleading nonetheless. Yoshinaga’s way of exposing her characters’ flaws and weakness is provocative and refreshing as always.
It wasn’t my intention to tell the story, so there are some major parts that remain unaddressed, nevertheless…
Chapter 1: Mother and daughter Mari and Yukiko’s personalities don’t quite clash, but their priorities don’t exactly align so there’s some tension. After 30 years of living with her–and more than half of that time being just the two of them, Yukiko finally figures out how to get along with her mother only to have their lives drastically change. On the heels of a galvanizing experience, Mari vows to live her life the way she wants and what she wants is to get married again. Much to Yukiko’s dismay her mother already fulfilled that heretofore secret desire by the time she hears about it and to top it off, the announcement comes with the news that he, Ohashi, is moving in. Yukiko is nonplussed–he’s younger that she, a former host, and a giddy sort. For her, all this adds up to the notion that he’s playing her mother for a fool. Yukiko is far from being rude to her new housemate, but she wears her distrust of him like a second skin. Rather than ease the added tension of the life adjustment, the newlyweds’ business as usual dispositions end up confusing and, at turns, horrifying Yukiko. Things come to a head for the suspecting daughter when her mother surprises her with another drastic change. With barely a moment between, Yukiko declares her own urgent development and reveals one of her own secrets in its wake.
Chapter 2: The now extended family sits around the dinner table as Ohashi’s friend, Kiyo, cries into his food about how he’s currently being blackmailed into being fellated by one of his university students, Maiko. This one made me uncomfortable because Maiko’s perception of herself seems warped, but perfectly acceptable when you consider her once the story comes to an end. She’s drawn to abusive men, but not in the quiet, subconscious, low self-esteem way. She does have low self-esteem and she reeks of desperation, but her desire to be or preference for being hit, chastised, or otherwise disrespected is indiscreet. And it doesn’t come off as role play either. It’s unsettling to me.
Chapter 3: The chapter starts with Yukiko’s friend Sayako’s memory of her grandfather telling her that she should never discriminate against people, everyone should be treated the same. At that point I wondered whether the issue was going to be all or nothing–knowing Yoshinaga, I decided n nothing. The chapter continues with Yukiko at dinner with Sayako and their friend Kara. They were chatting it up about relationships when Kara and Yukiko ask Sayako why she isn’t married. Sayako tells them that she isn’t cut out for it, but mentions that she’s considering going for an arranged marriage. So she did. Her aunt arranges three meetings and Sayako turns all of them down with the seemingly false admission that they were too good for her. Each time she turned a guy down, my brain tried to recalculate what her ultimate reasoning would be–all strayed from my initial thoughts of all or nothing. Finally she was introduced to a guy who she liked enough to see again and again, but ultimately she turn him down as well and immediately, like a GPS, my brain set about recalculating. While I didn’t expect for Yoshinaga to conclude this part of the story the way she did, I am certainly not surprised. Somewhere along the way I was reminded of Sachiko, Yoshinaga’s character from “One May Day,” one of the stories in Don’t Say Anymore, Darling, and I smiled. I can’t quite put the words to it, but I think these two stories would do well to be read in the same sitting.
Chapter 4: So the clock turns back to Yukiko’s middle school years and she’s hanging out with her friends Saeki and Makimura. The girls are getting into it about their expectations for the future and how they plan to or assume they will navigate those times yet to come as women. Makimura seems to have the most independent spirit of the trio. She aims to enter the private sector and work until she retires, building bridges for the women who will succeed her along the way. Somewhere in there might be a man. Saeki is more inclined to be a civil servant which provides equal pay for men and women and job security. She wants to work to support herself so that she can call all the shots where her life is concerned. Compared to her friends, the young Yukiko comes of as a bit naive, but she’s actually pretty sensible. She favors neither love nor independence over the other, but is of the mind to have both even if the independence is more of a safety net. They move on to high school where they are separated when Yukiko goes to an all girls private school. MAkimura and Saeki continue along and as they grow things change. Things that at first seem like minor snags turn out to be the unraveling threads. High school, university, and then ten years go by before Makimura and Saeki see each other again and they’ve uncomfortably settled into lives the bear doubtful resemblance to the ones they spoke confidently of on those days long since passed.
Chapter 5: Tick tock. The clock turns back again. In this final chapter we get to meet Mari and Tsuyuki, Mari’s mother, in their youth and in their early parenting years. We get to see how perceptions and insecurities are passed down and transformed from one generation to the next.Tsuyuki raised Mari according to the things she learned and experienced in her own youth; Mari did the same Yukiko. Tsuyuki’s parenting focus was all about prevention–she wanted nothing more than to ensure that her pretty little girl didn’t grow up to be spiteful and obnoxious like her high school classmate. Unlike some who seem doomed to repeat their past, Mari saw her mother as a model of what not to do, so she raised Yukiko without pretense. This seemed to work out pretty well for them, because as seen in chapter 1, they have a decent enough relationship that Yukiko stayed with Mari until she was 30 and it’s likely that she would have continued on with her if Ohashi hadn’t happened. I suppose this brings the story full circle.
As always, Yoshinaga wins my heart. I think what I enjoyed most is how even though each chapter told another related story, Yukiko’s life continued on in the background.