This first book by an author who represents a new generation of women writers contains two novellas and a short story.
The title work, the novella that was author Hiroko Oyamada’s publishing debut and earned her the Shinchō Prize for New Writers, is set in a large city where a major manufacturing company has its sprawling factory and campus. The company holds enormous sway as the primary employer in town, and no resident can remain entirely untouched by or oblivious to its presence. In addition to the factory itself, the campus includes single-family homes as well as apartment blocks, countless restaurants, supermarkets, and even bowling alleys; it is bisected by a river that empties into the ocean, with the southern edge of the company’s property stretching along the waterfront. Abnormally large numbers of nutrias and black cormorants of unknown origin populate the area. The narrative never reveals what the product of the factory is.
The story is told from three alternating points of view: a 26-year-old woman named Yoshiko Ushiyama; a man in his thirties named Furufue; and Ushiyama’s 30-year-old brother. All three have ended up at the factory by something akin to happenstance, and all three have been assigned rather unusual jobs. Since graduating from college, Yoshiko has worked for five different companies, never lasting very long at any one job, when she learns from her brother that the factory is hiring. She decides to apply, hoping to gain full employee status, but she is taken on instead as a contract employee, and her job is to shred documents all day long. Furufue is working as a biological researcher in a university lab when a professor urges him to apply for a job at the factory. As a specialist in mosses, he is assigned to the Greenspace Development Office, only to discover that he is its only employee; he moves into company housing on campus with little idea where to begin on his task. When Yoshiko’s brother is downsized as a systems engineer, he turns to his girlfriend who works for a temp agency for help, and is dispatched to the factory to fill a copyediting position. But the documents he must deal with are all across the map, it remains unclear to him how the company wishes to project itself, and he finds that little is actually expected of him; with no opportunity to make use of his background in computing, he puts in his time halfheartedly.
Near the end of the tale, Furufue encounters Yoshiko on a bridge within the factory grounds, and it comes to light that he has been working at the factory for 15 years with little to show for it. He gets the feeling that Yoshiko faults him for his failure to mount any notable greening efforts during his long tenure. For her part, Yoshiko finds herself pondering the relationships she has with her work, with the factory, and with society as a whole. She is uncertain how to gauge how close or distant those relationships are, whether or not she has a real bond with any of them, and whether or not there’s anything she can do to change them.
Writing in a distinctive style that mixes realism with elements of fantasy, Oyamada takes an incisive look at the meaning of labor in contemporary Japan.