Review: There’s No Such Thing as an Easy Job by Kikuko Tsumura

I requested a copy of Kikuko Tsumura’s There’s No Such Thing as an Easy Job because several people likened it to Convenience Store Woman. But there aren’t many similarities beyond the narrators being single, thirty-something women with “easy” jobs in Japan. While Keiko’s convenience store job gives her a feeling of satisfaction and normalcy, the unnamed narrator in There’s No Such Thing seeks out jobs that won’t stir any feelings. She wants a job without stress or emotional investment, and she jumps from one to the next by way of a recruitment agency.

This book is structured with one job per chapter. While the last chapter includes a number of callbacks, there aren’t many direct connections between the others, which leaves the book feeling like a collection of short stories or essays: “The Surveillance Job,” “The Bus Advertising Job,” “The Cracker Packet Job,” “The Postering Job,” and “The Easy Job in the Hut in the Big Forest.” Each chapter is focussed on its related job; there’s no sense of the narrator’s home life, and little information about the burnout that left her looking for easy work. Unfortunately, because each chapter feels so much like an individual story, there’s little momentum to push the reader to start the next chapter when one has ended.

The narrator takes this string of odd jobs after burning out and quitting her full-time job. After she moves back in with her parents, she has to find a job—any job—when her unemployment insurance runs out. Her one requirement at the recruitment agency is that she wants a job that barely qualifies as a job. If I’d read this book in my mid-twenties while feeling numb from a 3+ hour daily commute and mandatory overtime, it might have struck a deeper chord—but maybe not. This discussion of burnout and brainless work occurs in a space where the narrator is strangely blasé about her salary, and where she doesn’t encounter social pressure to have a better job (à la Convenience Store Woman). It’s the friction between not wanting (or being able) to work and having to work that usually drives this type of story, or makes it relatable. Without financial or social pressures, or a sharper look at the narrator’s home life, it’s as though these jobs occur in a vacuum, which may be why the narrative struggles so hard for momentum.

I’m torn on this book. On one hand, I understand that the narrator specifically seeks out non-stimulating work and therefore a non-stimulating story might be inevitable, but there’s something a little too dull about the presentation. The language strikes an odd tone—both stilted and casual—and events are narrated from a distance. Part of this is because the narrator is hesitant to get too involved with any job. However, the language doesn’t liven up very much even when she does get more involved with her job or coworkers. It’s also hard to visualize events. There’s a lot of talk of going places and doing things but comparatively few descriptive elements. It’s written more like, “I did this and then I did that.”

Near the end of a few chapters, the tone is warmer because the narrator can’t help involving herself and caring (to varying degrees) about each job. In the second chapter (my favorite), she works for an ad agency and is told to watch for “things appearing that shouldn’t be there.” This chapter might be a little too surreal when compared to others, but the mysterious element gives it a much-needed spark. The cracker-packet job was also interesting because it offered the most insight into the narrator’s interior life and her way of managing job-related stress. This job requires her to research and write themed trivia and advice for the backs of cracker packets, and she swings between taking satisfaction in her work and indulging her feelings of self doubt.

Overall: 2.7 (out of 5.0) The comparisons to Convenience Store Woman set an unfair bar for this book. There’s less here in terms of humor and vibrancy, but the stories might be more engaging if they were trimmed a bit (I don’t think I read any of them in a single sitting, which is unusual for me). The nature of these five jobs leads to repetition, of course, and while this book isn’t meant to be action-packed, there’s a way to discuss mundane things that isn’t mundane.

NB: This book was provided for review by the publisher, Bloomsbury USA (via NetGalley).

Image credit: Goodreads

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