A mine face is the surface from which ore drilling takes place?in other words the end of the tunnel, the point of greatest resistance. This novel portrays one year in the life of a married couple on a small former coal-mining island off Kyushu in southern Japan. The wife (also the narrator), Sei, is the 31-year-old nurse of the island's only elementary school, while her husband, Yosuke, is an artist three years older; both were raised on the island and returned there from Tokyo upon their marriage four years earlier. But waves begin to ripple through their serene relationship when a young male music teacher named Ishiwa arrives on the island at the start of the new school year in April. Sei is drawn to Ishiwa, and Ishiwa seems to realize this, although the two keep missing their chances to connect. Then, in early winter, Sei's schoolteacher friend Tsukiyo reveals that she slept with Ishiwa after she was dumped by her lover, a married man who would come to see her from Tokyo about once a month. At one point Tsukiyo declares she will marry Ishiwa, but in the end she resumes her affair with the other man; Ishiwa leaves the island, while Sei discovers she is pregnant with Yosuke's child. A little before Ishiwa departs, Sei treats him in her office for an injury, hesitantly touching his ankle with disinfectant?the first and only time the two even so much as brush against each other. With lovers who cannot bring themselves to confess their feelings, save through their eyes, the scene epitomizes the tenor of this finely wrought, metaphysical romance.