When I was younger, I fantasized about receiving letters. Not just any letters — letters from myself in the future. In these letters, future Sarah would chronologize my milestones and regrets. The information could be anything from a tip on an upcoming exam (I’m looking at you, physiology) or a clue about who I will marry. What could I do with that knowledge? Would I even believe it? While characters in Keigo Higashino’s “Miracles of the Namiya General Store” don’t get letters from themselves, they do get letters from the future.
“Miracles of the Namiya General Store” follows a series of interconnected vignettes, each telling a touching tale about a specific character’s internal conflicts with Mr. Namiya and his letters. Before the Namiya General Store had its time travel capabilities, it was simply a mom-and-pop shop with an old man as its owner. At the beginning, the letters and their responses weren’t serious at all. In fact, they would be most aptly dubbed as riddles. People would stop by the Namiya General Store and drop the letters off in a little milk crate. At 5:30 a.m. each morning, Mr. Namiya would get up, read through the letters and post his reply.
“Tell me how I can get an A+ on a test without studying or cheating on anything,” one visitor writes in “The Miracles.” And Mr. Namiya responds with, “Ask your teacher to test you on yourself. Since you’re the topic of the test, whatever you say will be correct.”
These silly prankster-like questions, however, were soon replaced with serious questions. Instead of dismissing these letters, Mr. Namiya slaved over thoughtful replies.
Halfway through the work, Mr. Namiya eventually dies on September 13th. Each year, however, on the anniversary of his death, time stops at the Namiya General Store. Whoever stumbles by has the ability to communicate with people in the past. We don’t learn of the Namiya General’s backstory until we’re halfway through the novel. Instead, the novel is framed by a set of three teenage delinquents — Kohei, Atsuya and Shota — who happen by the Namiya General Store by chance. Interestingly enough, the three boys take on the role Mr. Namiya once filled and earnestly answer the letters that file through the milk crate.
It’s easy to fall into the trap of tedium with a structure like the vignettes of “The Miracles.” Each chapter is like another exposition: new setting, new characters and new conflict. I initially worried that I would dread each chapter, hoping to return to familiar characters like Kohei, Atsuya and Shota. Thankfully, this is never the case. Each story is singular and surprisingly touching. One follows the story of a man with the pseudonym of “Floundering Musician” who struggles between his duty to the family business or following his dream to pursue a career in music. Another is of an Olympic fencer named “Moon Rabbit” who oscillates between taking care of her terminally ill partner or throwing her all into her training.
Like the letters sent to Mr. Namiya, some stories are hilarious. Others are heavy, delving deep into familial problems that had me fighting tears. Keigo Higashino proves to be a masterful storyteller, demonstrating expertise outside of his traditional crime and mystery novels. As always, I’m eager for his next translated work.