Ms Ice Sandwich by Mieko Kawakami
Published: 2017 by Pushkin Press
Genre(s): Contemporary, Short Story, Japanese Literature
When I read Ms Ice Sandwich, I didn’t expect much beyond what the blurb states that it’ll be “[t]ender, warm, yet unsentimental […] a story about new starts, parents who have departed, and the importance of saying goodbye”. After all, this is a story about a boy who’s smitten with a woman he calls ‘Ms Ice Sandwich’ because a) she sells sandwiches and b) her eye shadow reminds him of the blue ice lollies largely consumed during summer in Japan (anime fans and manga readers, you know which blue ice lollies I speak of). So, what more can there be to a short story like that? It’s going to be a slice-of-life thing that may or may not bore me to death because plot points always seem to take forever to arrive and twists may or may not be actual ‘twists’ at all…And well, it was both half-right and half-wrong of me to think of this short story as such.
Half-right because had I expected more, this short story would’ve made no emotional impact on me at all. And, half-wrong because this short story isn’t just some slow-paced, slice-of-life thing with plot points that take forever to arrive, it’s fleeting and surprisingly more meaningful than I expected with little life lessons embedded in the text like so:
“If you don’t see somebody, you end up never seeing them. And then there’s going to be nothing left of them at all.” (p.75)
“People always forget about these little things, but I believe that each one stays somewhere deep in everyone’s heart , and without noticing it they grow and harden, until one day they cause something terrible to happen.” (p.44)
Moreover, the narrator’s (who I assume to be an elementary/junior high school student) voice is strong in this novella. It’s a bumbling, slightly ramble-y/stream-on-consciousness and innocent narrative that focuses entirely on the boy’s worldview, which is both endearing and realistic. However, this sort of narrative has its downsides as well. On one hand, Kawakami has done well in weaving a quiet slice-of-life text where an innocent boy falls in an equally innocent love with a way older someone who he has to later, say goodbye to. On the other hand, Kawakami could’ve done better with the issue of social deviance and otherness, particularly since it’s been stated that Ms Ice Sandwich is about “parents who have departed”—an aspect which is largely brushed aside here.
All in all, Ms Ice Sandwich is a cute short story about beginnings and ends, more sweet than bitter despite the notion of saying goodbye.