This week we're taking a closer look at Powell's Pick of the Month Fault Lines by Emily Itami.
I am sometimes haunted by foreclosed possibilities.
I try not to dwell on literary theories that break down all stories into a small number of basic archetypes. I fear it would make my fiction reading seem claustrophobic, and I try to let myself subconsciously attach to whatever facet of a novel most strikes me as uniquely successful, whether that be the quality of the writing, psychological insight, or (ideally) something I can’t identify until after I’ve finished (perhaps after consulting with a literary theorist, but that gets expensive).
Still, in an industry where hundreds of new novels are available every month, one has to choose which books to read, and, as I think you know, making decisions is hard, and living with the decisions you’ve made is even harder. And here is where I feel closest to Mizuki, the protagonist of Emily Itami’s Fault Lines
A breakdown of the elements of Fault Lines
might, at first, seem familiar: a young mother of two with a strained marriage meets a man and is torn between the life she has and the possibility of a life closer to the one she once dreamed of. This definitely feels like oft-tread territory, right? But I never felt like I was reading anything tired or cliched, because before we learn any of the specifics of Mizuki’s plight, we hear her voice.
Itami’s narrator is one of the most charming guides that I’ve read in a long time. Self-aware, ambivalent, and often just barely in control of herself and her children, Mizuki makes every part of her experience relatable. And her experience is pretty far from mine, both demographically and geographically.
Mizuki lives in a Tokyo high rise, and one of the great achievements of this book is her explanation and navigation of Japanese mores. So often, another culture’s social conventions can seem inexplicable and alienating in fiction, but here the customs that Mizuki either follows or avoids being seen breaking are an understandable result of people living together, rather than a cruel and arbitrary force of conformity. Of course, there is much pressure to conform to others’ expectations, and Mizuki’s expression of her complicated feelings about that is what propels the story and make it truly unique (no matter what a highly paid literary theorist might tell you).
Check out the rest of our Picks of the Month