Emily Itami’s “Fault Lines” is the story of Mizuki whose marriage to Tatsuya is a thin veneer of day-to-day problems. She wants him to help her with the laundry (does a man do that?) and it makes her want to jump off the balcony of their thirty-second floor apartment. She puts the homemade meals on the table on time and raises the children well, but her stepmother senses that something is wrong (but what?). She cries easily even on the treadmill and it’s hard to keep walking sobbing. Author Itami goes from serious to ridiculous in downtown Tokyo.
At first their marriage was good but now Tatsuya goes to bed alone and turns away from her. Then she meets Kiyoshi in a café chatting with Laurence, her friend. Misuki recalls her own mother insisting that she not lie in the hot Japanese sun in the summer trying to be more tanned than her classmates. Eri’s school backpack protects her from tsunamis and other natural disasters. Like earthquakes? She meets Eloise and immediately befriends her because she loves her dress. During Tokyo Fashion Week, the most beautiful fashion houses open their doors and serve champagne and she, Eloise and Mizuki go out even if it’s raining. Mizuki bumps into a man taking shelter under an umbrella. It’s Kiyoshi and he gives her his business card so they can meet again although she tells him right away that she’s married. He says, “So?”
On the way to school in the building’s elevator, men in suits stare at the two children who are crying or eating cereal without their clothes on. And Mizuki still thinks of that man she met in the rain. At the crossroads, Aki (her baby boy) runs down the street and is almost run over by a bus, causing his mother to grab him by the arm and make him scream that she is hurting him. We know that everyone sees a show of child abuse. Aki’s pants fell in the fray and her underwear looks more like a thong. This is the beginning of the daily destruction. It’s funny and real. She feels tender towards Tetsu and wishes him a terrible death, both at the same time. She makes him breakfast but he says he is having coffee at the office. In the evening, she prepares her dinner. He has already eaten. Later, she wants to have a chat about their shitty relationship but he is bored. She gets angry and leaves the room, slamming the door. But it quietly closes on its own.
When she arrives in town, there is noise, neon lights and other people’s lives. She finds the other man’s business card in her pocket and walks to that address, then rushes to a bar. Kiyoshi sits next to her at the bar, chats with her, and orders the waitress friendly. Apparently he owns this bar and another one down the street. That night, he makes her laugh and she makes him laugh.
She is polite to Tatsu in the morning, pretending they are in a commercial. She takes the children to school, goes to the market, then to the gymnasium singing with joy because Kiyoshi knew the answers to her questions before she asked them. When at the market an old woman plays with Aki, Misuki realizes that she will be so old and a man will never fill her again. She is sad. When she was in New York, she had felt that freedom and happiness were always available. She was excited to fly the plane to America and stay with Cassie Michelson for a year as an exchange student. Cassie’s parents ignored the mistakes she made in language and social events.
Her mother had feared that Misuki would get fat or get shot or maybe both if she returned to America. Misuki auditions and gets a job as a singer with a terrible band and does gigs. Then she met Tatsu and forgot how to sing. One day she shows Kiyoshi her favorite section of Tokyo, with geishas and accordion music and French bistros and he loves it. She is having a great time and is two minutes late to pick up Aki from preschool, but she brings him a snack and he forgives her.
As the months pass, she’s kinder to Tatsu, remembering his good qualities when she’s free to do whatever she wants. She takes Kiyoshi to see the town where he talks to everyone, bartenders and chefs, taxi drivers and helmets.
Kiyoshi invites him to a business dinner with his friends to discuss opening a new restaurant in New York. She learns that he was married before, to a Parisian. She is dying to ask how was this woman, how was the sex, what were they talking about and in what language? At the dinner meeting, everyone is at the rendezvous. The food is superb and everyone oh and ah. Kiyoshi walks Mizuki to the door but doesn’t let her go, just kisses her when they are alone.
The next day is spring and the cherry trees are in bloom and Aki goes to practice baseball with his father. She is with Kiyoshi talking about New York and the possible new restaurant. He mentions a friend in the twin towers who got out in time. They find a small cafe and continue talking. He wants to see her again that night, so she hires a babysitter.
Spring passes, then monsoons and afternoons with Kiyoshi. Tatsu calls her from the living room and asks her if she wants to watch a movie. They are having a good evening.
After a Saturday outing, she and the kids (Eri and Aki) get on the subway. Suddenly, the car they are in swings from left to right, harder and harder. The young people who happily boarded a few minutes ago stopped talking. The train stops and Mizuki gets up to open the door, it won’t open, not even when another person tries. Eri’s eyes widen in fear and Aki clutches her mother’s neck as the car swerves back and forth. Cell phones say it’s an earthquake but there’s no beam to get under it. Eventually, they squeeze through a gap in the gate and are in the station. They climb stairs quickly to daylight and feel safer above ground. His phone rings, it’s Tatsu, asking if they’re okay. He’s their dad. Hooray, they think.
Does Misuki stay with him despite her imperfections? Or is she going to New York with Kiyoshi? Did the fear of the earthquake give him confidence to make the right decision? Find this excellent book on the new fiction shelf at your local library.