The story traces the life of a best-selling author during the year after he loses his wife to a tragic accident. The sudden bitter loss weighs heavily on him, prompting a period of deep reflection on life.
At 46, novelist Kei Tsumura still has the good looks that earned him the appellation “the Johnny Depp of the literary world,” and he is at the peak of his popularity, making frequent appearances on television variety shows. After four years working for a publishing house at the beginning of his career, he had quit his job to stake his all on making it as a writer, and it was only after considerable hardship that he had achieved his present stature. In the early years?both before his debut in print and after, when his sales were still low?he had depended on the unstinting encouragement and financial support of his wife Natsuko, who worked as a beautician. The couple is childless. Despite his remarkable facility with fiction, Kei is in reality timid and self-absorbed, which poses social challenges for him.
One winter, Natsuko is on her way to the ski slopes with Yuki Ōmiya, a friend she has known since high school, when their bus plunges off a mountain road, killing both women along with nine others. Having taken advantage of her absence to invite his lover to the house, Kei is lost in the throes of carnal pleasure at the very moment of the tragedy. He is stricken with both guilt and grief.
At a meeting where family members of the victims press demands on the bus company, Kei meets Yuki’s husband Yōichi, who drives a truck for a living. Although this is the first time the two men have met in person, their wives had been close enough that they share an easy sense of familiarity. Having lost his wife, Yōichi must now try to care for his 11-year-old son Shinpei and four-year-old daughter Akari as a single father. Shinpei is very solicitous of his little sister and, since their father must often be away on long hauls in his truck, he wants to give up his after-school entrance-exam prep classes so Akari doesn’t have to be at home alone. Though Kei has never liked children, he decides he can’t sit idly by, and volunteers to help. He begins coming to the Ōmiya house twice a week, picks Akari up at her preschool, prepares meals, scrubs the bath, and takes on other domestic chores he’s never done at his own house. In the midst of his grief, it gives him something to do along with a sense of meaning. Meanwhile, Kei also discovers, on his wife’s phone, the unsent draft of a text message addressed to him: “I don’t love you anymore. Not at all.”
The profound grief Kei has held bottled up inside him finally explodes. He picks a fight with Yōichi, and cuts off his twice-weekly visits. At the end of December, Yōichi is arrested for beating up a sex worker. When Kei goes to bail him out, Yōichi, Shinpei, and he briefly renew contact, but they are unable to torque things back to the way they were before. As a new year dawns, Kei has regained his footing enough to begin writing a story based on his relationship with his wife; the work he produces earns him a minor literary award.
The deeply probing characterizations, deft storytelling, and nuanced attention to detail that have become author Nishikawa’s trademark are on full display in this engaging tale of a journey through grief.