Kikuko Tsumura has already won major Japanese literary prizes--most often writing about women in the workplace. Her U.S. fiction debut, There's No Such Thing as an Easy Job, smoothly translated by award-winning Polly Barton, features a 36-year-old unnamed working woman, her anonymity convincingly suggesting universality. While 400-plus pages of career-meandering might seem long, the narrator's sly humor and ever-so-droll observations will delight readers.
"Burnout syndrome" has returned the narrator to her parents' home. She's drained her unemployment insurance. She's realized "hanging around doing nothing forever probably wasn't the answer either." She finds a surprisingly indulgent temp-agency recruiter and announces she'd like a job close to home, "ideally, something along the lines of sitting all day in a chair overseeing the extraction of collagen for use in skincare products." Her first gig isn't far off--she's sent to mindlessly video-surveil a writer unaware he's harboring smuggled contraband. She doesn't last long, and moves on to write audio ads for buses, create fun-facts copy for rice crackers, (re)place outdoor posters, monitor a park outpost. She's remarkably adaptive but proves especially capable at her bucolic assignment where she solves the mystery of inexplicable tampering, random lost objects and ghostly rumors. Only then does the narrator reveal the job that had "sucked up every scrap of [her] energy," but it's a career she might just be ready to try again.
As light and charming as the novel might initially seem, Tsumura perceptively examines on-the-job disparity, gender inequity, search for fulfilment. Her own early experience with workplace harassment inspired her first novel; such all-too-familiar career challenges continue to fuel her notable, growing oeuvre. --Terry Hong, Smithsonian BookDragon