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Fault Lines

Review

Fault Lines

From debut novelist Emily Itami comes FAULT LINES, an explosively resonant and shockingly witty look into the life of happy housewife Mizuki...who maybe isn’t so happy after all.

On the surface, Mizuki has it all. Her husband, Tatsuya, is a Japanese salaryman who recently has been promoted and takes good care of his family in their beautiful Tokyo apartment. They have two adorable children: 10-year-old Eri and four-year-old Aki. On top of that, she has a relatively successful career helping businessmen and their wives adapt to Japanese culture without offending anyone. Perhaps it is her nearly scientific investigation into her own country’s cultures, or the time she spent in America, or even her friendship with Eloise, a brash Parisian. Whatever it is, Mizuki is able to both celebrate and poke fun at Japan and its backward practices, and even her own idiosyncrasies. Never is this more clear than when she becomes obsessed with Kiyoshi, a restaurateur.

"What initially seems like a negative view of marriage, commitment and fidelity becomes so much more in Itami’s skilled hands and piercing gaze. FAULT LINES is full of laugh-out-loud, irreverent humor, as well as heartstoppingly poignant, yet seemingly incidental, wisdom."

When we meet Mizuki, she has started to feel “the urge to run around like a dog chasing its tail, asking [herself] stupid questions and trying to shake them out of [her] head.” This restless state of mind, along with a sense of feeling underappreciated by Tatsuya, leads her to the balcony, where she throws herself to the ground. Well, not throw herself. That would be too dramatic. But maybe jump? At any rate, she quickly shakes off the idea as foolish. After all, she is not abused or even hated by her husband, though he occasionally takes her for granted and could stand to phrase things more pleasantly. Mizuki’s brief fling with death (or at least the idea of it) is, for her, a reminder to think more rationally and not like “an insane dog.” But for the reader, it’s a portent of something sinister hiding in the cracks of her marriage.

Perhaps Mizuki could have lived like this indefinitely, ignoring the annoying, irritating and even harmful aspects of housewife life in favor of its stability and comfort. After all, she and Tatsuya have been married for over a decade. Who really needs sex at their age anyway? But then, on a rain-splattered night, she meets Kiyoshi. For the second time. Well-built and broad-shouldered, with strong features, Kiyoshi probably could make any woman look twice. But when Mizuki runs into him again and again and again, she finds that she can’t stop thinking about him.

Far from a story about a woman caught in the lust of an affair, FAULT LINES is not about (or at least, not only about) the love affair of Mizuki and Kiyoshi, but rather about Mizuki’s love affair with herself, one that allows her to rediscover her own spark and reprioritize what she wants from life. Sure, Kiyoshi’s attention is flirtatious and sensual, but more than that, it marks the first time that anyone close to her has really paid attention, really asked her a question about herself and waited for the answer, really listened. Soon, the facade of Mizuki’s wit (and my goodness is she witty!) starts to fall away, and she begins to see how lonely she truly was before she met Kiyoshi.

Bowled over by the intoxicating combination of sexual attraction and attention, Mizuki soon finds, inevitably, that she has fallen for Kiyoshi, not just the freedom he represents or the electricity of their affair and Tokyo’s nightlife. Itami doesn’t hold back in her depiction of Mizuki, never hiding her flaws or making poor excuses for them. At the same time, though, she provides readers with a no-holds-barred view into Mizuki’s mind and all of her ponderings, complaints and exaltations on life, her marriage and her role as a mother. Combined, these full, vivid portrayals of a “real” woman are astonishing. Like Mizuki, we know that what she is doing is technically wrong, yet we root for her implicitly.

What initially seems like a negative view of marriage, commitment and fidelity becomes so much more in Itami’s skilled hands and piercing gaze. FAULT LINES is full of laugh-out-loud, irreverent humor, as well as heartstoppingly poignant, yet seemingly incidental, wisdom. All of the inner yearnings and tribulations of Mizuki are laid bare, offering one of the fullest, most thorough depictions of a character I have ever read. Although the book is undeniably funny, it reads as if Itami has wrung out every possible meaning, perception and argument from every last word. Every line here is razor-sharp, chosen with precision, resulting in a deceptively clever, emotionally wise and truly heartbreaking novel.

Perfect for readers of character-driven books like NORMAL PEOPLE and MY YEAR OF REST AND RELAXATION, and underappreciated spouses who loved THE HUSBANDS and KIM JI-YOUNG, BORN 1982, this engaging novel is the perfect book to pull you out of any slump and act a little kinder to yourself the next time you ask, “Who am I, and how did I get here?”

Reviewed by Rebecca Munro on October 1, 2021

Fault Lines
by Emily Itami

  • Publication Date: September 7, 2021
  • Genres: Fiction, Women's Fiction
  • Hardcover: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Custom House
  • ISBN-10: 0063099802
  • ISBN-13: 9780063099807