Tuesday, April 25, 2023

REVIEW: There's No Such Thing as an Easy Job (book) by Kikuko Tsumura, translated by Polly Barton

There's No Such Thing as an Easy Job is Japanese workplace fiction that occasionally hints at fantasy elements. I bought my copy new.


The narrator (who I don't think was ever named, but maybe I missed it) burned out from the work she'd previously been doing for about 14 years, so badly that she no longer even wants to work in the same field. She's been living with her parents and her unemployment insurance has run out, forcing her to seek some form of employment again. She tells Mrs. Masakado at the employment center that she wants an easy job located as close as possible to her home, and Mrs. Masakado finds her the perfect thing: a surveillance job located across the street from her house. Literally all she has to do, all day, is watch video footage of her assigned target, paying special attention to any deliveries he receives or any DVDs from his collection that he interacts with in any way.

It's a weird little job. It's technically easy and close to her home, just like she asked, but she finds that she has enough issues with it and its particular drawbacks that she doesn't want to stick with it when her contract is up. After that, Mrs. Masakado does her best to match her up with the perfect job for her. She takes on a bus advertising job, creating audio advertisements for businesses located along a particular bus route. After that, she works as the writer of interesting notes and messages on cracker packets. Then she switches to a job that involves putting up and switching out various informational posters. Finally, she ends up taking on something advertised as "as easy job in a hut in a big forest." Sounds kind of ominous, right?

This was a strange and quirky book, in a way that was pretty much perfect for me. Not much happened, but I found each new job that the narrator took on to be fascinating. If she'd stuck to the letter of what the jobs required, she probably could have been perfectly content with several of them. However, the narrator was the type of person who became emotionally involved in everything she did. Nothing was "just a job."

In her surveillance job, she found her wants and needs being influenced by the target she was assigned to watch. In the bus advertising job, she became caught up in her boss's concerns and a potential mystery involving one of her colleagues. At the cracker packet job, the amount of attention her work received took a toll on her and led to her suffering imposter syndrome. She became so invested in her postering job that she essentially put herself out of work. Even her final "easy job" became a puzzle for her to investigate and solve. This was not a woman who was capable of just doing the bare minimum, collecting her paycheck, and going home.

I'm still not sure how I feel about where the story (and narrator) ended up. This was essentially a book about burnout, but I didn't get the impression that the narrator learned any techniques to prevent it during any of her various jobs. If anything, it seemed like she'd be inclined to burn out faster. Maybe her journey was about recognizing and accepting the type of person she was?

I don't know. Despite my issues with the ending, I enjoyed seeing the narrator tackle each of her various jobs. They all had quirky aspects that didn't always quite feel real - the bus advertising job, in particular, left me with questions that were never really answered. I could see myself wanting to reread this at some point - maybe if I did I'd get something different out of the ending.

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