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

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

There’s No Such Thing as an Easy Job, the latest novel from prize-winning author Kikuko Tsumura, is a strange carousel ride through a series of temporary jobs taken on by an unnamed narrator, a 36-year-old Japanese woman who has recently resigned from her job due to burnout. Although the protagonist-narrator insists that she wants an easy job, her musings indicate that she wants a meaningful job. Finding a balance–a job with meaning that does not draw on intellectual or emotional resources–inevitably demonstrates the truth of the book’s title.

After moving back with her parents and running out of unemployment benefits, the protagonist visits a recruiter and asks to be referred for a job that will not be demanding, as she fears repeating the kind of devotion to work that previously led to her overwhelming stress. The five jobs, represented in the book’s five chapters, are all temporary positions that could potentially evolve into permanent posts. As the cycle of meeting new coworkers and adjusting to a new workplace and new customs is repeated in each scenario, Tsumura offers a close study of interpersonal communication in the workplace. The narrator conducts a close analysis of her coworkers throughout, observing them as individuals and also critiquing her interactions with them. The narrator may be exceptionally perceptive in her observation of other people, yet she may also be a bit paranoid.

The first “easy” job she takes is doing asynchronous video surveillance. Watching a video feed of uninspired novelist, Yamae Yamamato, recorded on hidden cameras in his home workspace, reveals a discomfort with our hyper-mediated surveillance culture. That her jobs are rather unusual lends a sense of strangeness to her work life, which continues to require her to watch others. On a job writing advertisements for a local bus line called the Albatross, the manager, Mr. Kazetani, asks her to watch for any unusual behavior from Ms. Eriguchi, her supervisor.

The narrator grows fond of Ms. Eriguchi while always being suspicious of what strange things might be lurking behind her polished professional appearance. How trust is established, particularly when colleagues like Ms. Eriguchi draw a solid line between their personal lives and their professional lives, is a question that rises from this experience. And while readers may come to know the narrator through the minutiae of her everyday activities, she ultimately reveals little about herself, not even her name.

Her next job poses a different problem. Charged with crafting trivia messages for a popular line of crackers, the narrator is even more isolated, kept in an office by herself. In a culture where teamwork and collaboration is highly valued, how does an individual respond to being separated from others, even when her work demands solitude? Is being left alone a burden or a benefit? Despite these serious questions, the cracker company is full of absurd humor, especially as the narrator strives to come up with interesting trivia categories. The balance between solitude and camaraderie raises provocative questions about the human need for social connection that runs throughout the book.

Prone to overthinking, the narrator is deeply concerned with deciding whether her coworkers are good people. During her fourth job, hanging posters at the homes of residents in a small neighborhood, she realizes that she knows virtually nothing about Mr. Monaga, the graphic artist who makes the posters and instructs her which homes to visit, even though she works with him every day. “I’d realized after my first two years of employment that, so long as your colleagues presented you with ‘good interface’ while they were at work, it didn’t really matter what kind of people they were outside of it,” she thinks. Yet in each situation, the human quality of her colleagues is significant to determining the quality of the job itself.

Indeed, there is no such thing as an easy job. At the cracker company, she notes that while trying to get emotionally involved in writing the trivia for the cracker packets, she found it difficult not to take satisfaction in it. The process of coming to terms with work as a significant aspect of daily life in late capitalism feels aligned with the cultural moment of establishing post-pandemic daily routines.

For a story that is situated primarily in the mind of its narrator, it’s helpful that she is a likeable character, leaving the reader with a satisfying conclusion to a series of puzzling events. Tsumura’s slow, steady pace lends itself to pleasant reading, but although she has written some 20 books since 2008, this is the first to be translated into English. One hopes that No Such Thing earns enough interest so that more of her work will be translated.

The process of coming to terms with work as a significant aspect of daily life in late capitalism feels aligned with the cultural moment of establishing post-pandemic daily routines.
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Quirky temp life

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