Three separate yet connected short stories that show the cultural expectations of women.
Our narrator is unnamed. He is a married, middle-aged man that is very average Joe. In the first story, he goes to the house of a friend of his best friend (Saiki), and meets the man’s new wife. In this story we are confronted with a couple things, 1. This man, Urabe, married a woman twenty years his junior and she is pregnant. 2. His wife does everything around the house. 3. Urabe collects and breeds rare fish. My takeaway from this story – which I believe to be what we are supposed to takeaway – is that women are expected to do everything in the house, without acknowledgement or thanks. Our narrator is different than the other two men in that he not only thanks her, but offers to help. While the wife is out getting food, Urabe serves up dried shrimp fish food. I’m not going to lie, I was wondering if this would slip into the horror or speculative genre when I got to this point. It just felt very ominous. Spoiler alert? It did not go that route. But Urabe describes a relationship with a young girl and these very shrimp from a time when his fish shop was up and running, and while not explicitly stated, it can be inferred that this young girl is now his wife. This adds a layer of grooming and taking advantage of young girls that just makes Urabe’s character all the more unlikeable.
The second story starts with Saiki calling our narrator to tell him he is married to a woman ten years his junior, and would the narrator and his wife like to come visit? Well of course they do! When they get there, they meet Yoko. Yoko is preparing the meal even while pregnant. She is making sure everything is set up for their guests. Again we see this depiction of the woman of the house being made to do all of the labor. Saiki is a better than Urabe in the way that he treats Yoko, but the heteronormative expectations are still at play. Saiki tells us about how they have weasels in the attic and that they just can’t seem to get rid of them. Our narrator’s wife then tells a story about how her childhood home had weasels and how they got rid of them. A deeply upsetting story that unfortunately is replicated (off page) by Saiki and Yoko.
Our last story is about our narrator and his wife going to visit Saiki and Yoko again only this time they are trapped there by a snow storm. Yoko has given birth and the narrator’s wife is activated in a way that women are expected to be. She is baby obsessed and starts saying and doing things that are a little… off center. Again, this made me wonder if we were going to head down the speculative fiction/horror route, and in this story I feel like we might’ve. There is a dream sequence described that definitely alludes to a more sinister and curious reality than the one described elsewhere. Alas, nothing really comes of it.
I appreciate this book for calling out the ways that women are expected to behave in society, and the amount of work that is put on their shoulders – even when pregnant. I don’t think this was executed as well as it could have been though, and I didn’t find the characters particularly compelling. The writing didn’t invite us into the lives of these people. It was much like the book itself, short glimpses into these people’s lives without greater depth. I also didn’t find the writing to match the content of the stories. Like I mentioned, it leaned toward horror, but nothing horrific really happens. The most we get is the nightmare. And I can respect unsettling writing! Even if the story doesn’t go into horror, the writing can be unsettling which is something I do like. But there just wasn’t enough from the story to make it have a real impact. I don’t know if I’m describing it well, but I feel like the writing and the messages of the story just didn’t match up.