Thank you to Yen Press for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review!
Genre(s): Fiction, Fantasy
Series: Stand Alone
Publisher: Yen Press
Release date: September 24th, 2019
/r/Fantasy Bingo Squares: Slice of Life (HM), Published 2019
“Try this on for size. A blank map means you can fill it up however you life. It’s entirely up to you. Everything is open; the possibilities are limitless. It’s a beautiful thing. I can only hope this helps you find a way to start believing in yourself, and to move through life with no regrets.
I thought I would never get to answer another letter. It gives me great pleasure to end on such a thorny riddle.
– Namiya General Store”
The Miracles of Namiya General Store is a book of interconnected short stories focusing on the lives of individuals who were helped or shaped by both the store and a nearby orphanage, called Marumitsuen. It follows a group of delinquents, an Olympic fencer, and a real estate tycoon amongst others. It’s a book about how everyone’s lives are connected to one another, how one small action can lead to much larger impacts spanning across generations.
This book comes full circle, showing how the past has impacted the future. The book opens on three young men, orphans who grew up in Marumitsuen, as they escape from a house they robbed. They’re in their getaway car, discussing plans for the night… their car breaks down. They hoof it over to an abandoned house nearby, where they intend to lay low for the night. Gradually, they begin to notice that things aren’t adding up… the clock on their phones is working strangely, and there’s an odd aura pervading the space. When a letter drops in through the mail slot requesting advice, they know something is up. Their first instinct is to leave, but ultimately… they don’t want to leave the author of the letter unanswered. She is a fencer training for the Olympics, and her boyfriend is struggling with cancer. Although he encourages her to live out their dream for her and keep training as hard as she can, she’s torn between acceding to his wishes and spending her time supporting him through chemotherapy.
As they correspond with her, they come to an abrupt realization: “Moon Rabbit,” as she signs her letters, is not from the present. The letters are coming across years to reach them. She’s confused when they mention the Internet or cell phones, and they ultimately nail down the “when” of her time by asking about favorite songs and films. Moon Rabbit is writing to them from 1979…. the year prior to Japan boycotting the Olympics. Armed with this knowledge, the boys give her advice and do their best to dissuade her from pursing her training and encourage her to stay with her partner. This doesn’t quite work as they intended, but it does ultimately work out for the best.
“He’s an amazing guy. No tricks, no bullshit. I mean, when I told him about my problem, he practically bopped me on the head. But he forced me to figure things out and see that I was getting in my own way. He’s the reason why I was finally able to stop worrying and throw myself into the training.”
After they finish their correspondence with Moon Rabbit, another letter drops in. As the novel progresses, it focuses on multiple other points of view so that we seen not only the letters from each of these individuals, but also how they implemented the advice they were given and about their lives back in time.
While I feel that the core conceit of this book was solid, I felt that overall the plot alone wasn’t enough to justify the slice-of-life nature of this story. Slice of life is very difficult to write well, given that the other elements of the book need to be strong enough to overcome the lack of plot. Characters, atmosphere, and prose are key to a successful novel… and unfortunately, I found that they did not come through with enough strength for me to be fully drawn in to this book. Given the glowing reviews of this book as it is written in other languages, I suspect part of this may be due to a slightly lackluster translation – in the original Japanese, it’s very possible that the prose is utterly to die for. The English version, unfortunately, leaves a bit to be desired and comes off as dry and slightly simplistic.
All in all, this is a good book to read if you want something that’s optimistic as well as a quick and easy read. It’s friendly, cozy, and extremely accessible. This is probably a better fit for people who tend to read fiction as opposed to fantasy or science fiction, as these elements are somewhat lighter than I might have hoped. The story overall is very grounded in reality and feels more like a parable of sorts rather than the exploration of new ideas I tend to expect from speculative fiction.
Recommended for fans of:
- The Undefeated by Una McCormack
- The Five People You Meet in Heaven by Mitch Albom
Have you read this book? What did you think? Do you have any questions about it?
Let me know in the comments below!