There was a time in my youth when I thought—believed and knew—I would be rich, be famous, have had my big break and achieved everything I wanted and deserved. My optimism knew no boundaries and stopped for no walls.
But the skies in dreams are infinite, and the skies in reality are untouchable, and well into my twenties, I’m not living that life my younger self fantasized of so often, and many days, I ask myself what happiness even is and how I can grasp it, if it even has form. The one thing I’ve found that gives me both joy and satisfaction is writing this blog. It’s a dumping ground for the thoughts and opinions I have on the media I consume to bring me a fleeting sense of enjoyment on the days that are gray, many of which are.
Why am I bearing these vulnerabilities? The most concrete reason I can give is experimentation. Shedding the haughty persona I play and holding a lighter to the person behind the keyboard. The lame excuse I will give is that it makes for a great segue. Because recently, I read a book, and it hit close to home: Three Days of Happiness.
Remove the mention of my blog and change the first-person pronouns to Kusonoki and the opening paragraphs describe the tale and sorrows of the novel’s protagonist. He’s at the start of his third decade of life but drowning in misery. Happiness is impossible to find, and money leaves his palms as soon as it lands. He hears of a business in an old, decrepit building that pays sellers for their time, their health, or their life span. Strapped for cash and holding no motivation to continue living, Kusonoki sells all but the last three months of his life span. The total he gets back—300,000¥. That’s about $3,000. He had another three decades to live, but he would wallow in such dense misery that they were scarcely worth a few months’ rent. Despite the meager payout far below his estimation, he accepts the money and heads home to wonder how he’ll spend the last three months of his life, and if he can find any joy and meaning in them.
With how this novel begins, mentioning a schoolgirl he was close to but drifted away from, I expected that she would float back into his life, and that reconnection would be the novel’s namesake. It’s not a bad premise, but I prefer the alternate route it took. It being a romance, Kusonoki is in close proximity with a woman, but the heroine in question is Miyagi, his monitor, an employee sent to watch over him in his final months to ensure that he brings no harm to others. The book pulls no fast ones where the twist is that Miyagi is Kusonoki’s elementary classmate but was hiding it for whatever reason, and it does so much with their relationship with such a small page count. There’s no dithering with their feelings and no big spectacles to win one another over. They’re two broken souls who take comfort and solace and discover pleasure in each other’s company, and they grow closer in a genuine way that you or I might find love. It’s such a sweet romance, though there is one yikesy moment early on where Kusonoki, irritated with Miyagi’s cold demeanor, is overcome with the urge to hurt her and threatens to sexually assault her, telling her after he calms down that he only made that exact threat because he found her attractive, to which she thanked him. I love how their relationship progresses, but that scene gave me pause and almost makes me wonder how they moved past it so easily to become best couple.
If I wanted to make up a playful title for this novel, it would be Man Meets With Associates Who Don’t Like Him Very Much. There’s no A-Z plot, where Kusonoki is working toward an end goal but is instead, as many of us would surely act, meandering about his hometown to find something that’ll make his last months worthwhile, and he has a lot of run-ins with old classmates, whose interactions play on a fear we might harbor, that the people we like might not like us back. Despite it happening so often that it becomes a cliché by the end, I didn’t tire of seeing the demons swelling behind people’s masks. Some dislike Kusonoki because of how neglectful and distant he was, while others dislike him for their own insecurities, and we learn so much about the side characters just from how they respond to Kusonoki. Hatred is often depicted as black, but this novel proves that it comes in many colors.
Fools come in many varieties, too, but Three Days of Happiness tells the tale of one type of fool, according to author Sugaru Maiki in the afterword, that of the “hell creator”: those who weaponize their own minds, tricking themselves into believing that happiness is fictitious and misery is omnipresent, and they perpetuate their suffering with their every thought and their every action. And yet, despite this toxic mindset, they will, in the moments before their death, clear their muddied eyes and see the world for the wonderful, astounding land it is.
How many of you are such a fool? Am I such a fool? Perhaps. There was an era in my life, in my early twenties, when I shared in Kusonoki’s poisonous beliefs. I’ve shed them over time, and continue to do so, but I have yet to obtain that elusive happiness I’ve dreamed of since I was a teenager, or maybe the reason I can’t catch it is because that happiness doesn’t exist, but a different kind does. Who can say? This book makes me ask a lot of questions.
What is happiness?
What does it look like?
Where can I find it?
Why chase things you can’t enjoy after death?
It makes me wonder.
I haven’t read a book this good and this thought-provoking since I Want to Eat Your Pancreas. It’s so beautiful and poignant in ways my words can’t adequately describe, from its messages and its presentation, and it treats its characters so well, giving them tiny flourishes that make them feel like human beings I might run into at the local grocery market, like when Kusonoki folds up his legs as is Miyagi’s habit and she smiles. It’s such a masterfully crafted work that it ought to be on everyone’s to-read list, especially those who are hurting, because maybe, hopefully, when they reach the final page and shut the back cover, they’ll have the tools they’ll need to start piecing their lives back together.