Story: Keigo Higashino
Translation: Sam Bett
What They Say
When three delinquents hole up in an abandoned general store after their most recent robbery, to their great surprise, a letter drops through the mail slot in the store’s shutter. This seemingly simple request for advice sets the trio on a journey of discovery as, over the course of a single night, they step into the role of the kindhearted former shopkeeper who devoted his waning years to offering thoughtful counsel to his correspondents. Through the lens of time, they share insight with those seeking guidance, and by morning, none of their lives will ever be the same.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers):
This novel is a gem. I’m not generally a fan of stories where time and space get twisted by unknown entities, but The Miracles of the Namiya General Store grabbed my heart much the way your name did. However, Namiya General Store has a drastically different plot structure than your name. In your name, the year and setting bounces all over the place, but ultimately the plot follows the progression of the main couple’s relationship. Namiya General Store has no overarching plot. It’s comprised of five lengthy chapters, each focused on a different set of characters. Yet as the chapters progress, they reveal critical connections which bind the characters, although the characters themselves are often oblivious to it.
The one connection that definitively ties all the characters is the Namiya General Store. In the late 1970s, the aged shopkeeper offered advice to anyone who wanted it. Simply drop your question, no matter how silly or serious, in the shop’s mailslot after hours, and old Mr. Namiya would have a response waiting in the milk crate at the rear of the shop the next morning. Fast forward to 2012, thirty-three years after Mr. Namiya’s passing, three young burglars duck into the now abandoned store after a midnight robbery. As they’re waiting for the coast to clear, letters from the past drop through the slot.
Chapter 1 actually begins with the three thieves and their decision to respond to the letters on the store’s behalf. Chapter 2 shifts back in time to one of the advice-seekers whose correspondence reaches the three thieves. Chapter 3 goes even further back to show Mr. Namiya in his advice-giving heyday as seen through his son’s eyes. In Chapter 4, the perspective shifts to Mr. Namiya’s first serious correspondent. Finally, Chapter 5 wraps up with the three thieves and the final advice-seeker they advise. It’s a lot of jumping around, but it actually works because there’s always an element from the ending chapter that allows it to flow into the next.
The thing that initially grabs your attention is the problems of the advice-seekers. (There’s a reason why advice columns attract readers.) However, the focus gradually shifts to those struggling to write a response. While we eventually become privy to the particulars of everyone involved, the characters are shut behind veils of anonymity. Anonymity is often used as a shield for nastiness, and a couple times, the thieves do make potshots in their responses. For the most part, however, the three do their utmost to help the advice-seekers, and the way their anonymity bring out the best in them is a beautiful twist.
The store’s supernatural routing system lends the novel an air of mystery, and the story also contains some exciting bits, including a deadly fire and a family’s fly-by-night. For the most part, though, this is a tale of characters at crossroads. Not everyone gets a happy ending, but all are portrayed in a sympathetic light as they agonize over the right thing to do.
Thoughtful, well-intentioned advice doesn’t always lead to a happy result, but at the Namiya General Store, it’s more the rule than the exception. Characters come from all walks of life and grapple with a range of decisions, but Higashino-sensei beautifully intertwines their struggles to create a beautiful story of hope.
Content Grade: A+
Packaging Grade: A
Text/Translation Grade: B+
Age Rating: 13+
Released By: Yen Press
Release Date: September 24th, 2019