Alone at dawn, in the heat of midsummer, a young woman named Takiko departs on foot for the hospital to give birth to a baby boy. Her pregnancy, the result of a casual affair with a married man, is a source of sorrow and shame to her abusive parents. For Takiko, however, it is a cause for reverie. Her baby, she imagines, will be hers and hers alone, a challenge but also an instrument for her long-wished-for independence.
Certain forms of criticism that mothers seem automatically to accept in Western literature glide off this work like Teflon. Which is not to say that the novel paints a rosy portrait of motherhood. There is a surface placidity to the prose that belies its heavy themes of domestic violence, alcoholism, and economic and social precarity ... The narrative, in a fine translation by Geraldine Harcourt, alternates between an omniscient narrator and close third person. Events, including annunciations, are stated with the matter-of-fact plainness of stage directions ... The book's quotient of plainspoken to sensuous lines is remarkably even. Other passages offer atmospheric, lovely descriptions ... What gives the narrative its propulsive quality are its dreamlike, almost mystical sequences ... The novel begins with a dream of someone hailing Takiko from afar, and reveries laden with symbolism follow Takiko about from one location to another.
Tsushima...draws on the fierce, sometimes monstrous tradition of individualism in which her father participated, and makes of it something strange and new ... Her work is unusual in the interpretive demands it makes of the reader, though the prose itself is always clear and accessible ... The novel is somewhat carelessly paced—there are long stretches of verbatim logbook entries from Akira’s first weeks in daycare that, while they accurately capture the tedium of childcare, can’t help but test the reader’s patience. The novel opens up when Takiko takes a job at a plant nursery ... Her would-be romance with a gruff coworker who has a developmentally disabled son shades heavily into melodrama ... The reader is liberated by the change of pace and setting after the claustrophobic depiction of early parenthood and domestic cruelty that dominates most of the book. As in much of Tsushima’s writing, there is a clash of styles at work, an uneasy blend of raw detail and more conventional fiction that threatens the book’s tonal coherence ... In Woman Running in the Mountains...Tsushima makes the novel’s escape into romantic fantasy feel, viscerally, like an escape.
Woman Running in the Mountains captures not only Takiko’s struggle but the unbearable loneliness of being a single parent of any gender ... What makes this rerelease feel so urgent? Forty years have removed some of the stigma from single parenthood but little of the difficulty ... Takiko is certain she will be able to go on as she was before her pregnancy, to live her life and set goals for herself as a parent. Her mystical confidence is what gives the novel its unique strength ... Tsushima expresses Takiko’s confidence through her appreciation of nature ... Tsushima’s work is grounded in her social consciousness, making Woman Running in the Mountains both a timely and a timeless read.