The Cracks Between – A Rumination on Fault Lines by Emily Itami

Cheating is often a zero-sum game when mentioned in any context. There is a visceral reaction to the word that brings out anger and intolerance within most of the population. However, few dare to go into the psychology of it. The question of what makes someone cheat?

Some say it’s opportunity. Some say it’s a disregard for your partner. Some say it’s boredom. Sometimes it’s an inability to say goodbye to your old self…

The general consensus is if you do it, you are certainly evil for it and have no excuse, no reason, and most of all are unworthy of forgiveness. But, sometimes there are no straight lines to draw between these sorts of things. Sometimes these lines between loyalty and disloyalty are actually fractures, tiny uneven cracks that spread towards either side and never quite being equal. As they grow and create the schism that destroys the relationship, it suddenly becomes clearer… what the breaking point was. What was the fault line which disrupted the lines between the loyal significant other and the opportunist in need of escape…

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Now, step into Well Read’s Corner and enjoy our latest rumination on Fault Lines by Emily Itami!


*minor spoilers ahead*

Fault Lines is the intimate spiral of a Japanese housewife weighed down by culture, expectation, and the lost dreams she still harbors as she battles stress and monotony of her day-to-day life. The story explores a side of traditional marriage that many do not discuss in regards to wives and that is the women they were before. Mind you this is not the first exploration into this particular subject, but it is the first to be realistic in how can drive the mental health to the brink and inspire a sort of impulsiveness in an effort to alleviate the stress. Even more so to grab on to a piece of what she was before.

I didn’t set off on a course to destroy my good name (ha! Did I ever have one?) or my family’s domestic bliss because MTV made me a bit teary or my husband was lax with the housework. But they were all indicators, I suppose, that trouble was brewing. They were the peeling paint and broken windowpanes of my home. Some houses can stay standing forever – there’s a village near where I grew up where the entire population aged and died, and it’s still sitting there in this valley, untouched for years. Typhoons and earthquakes, scorching summers and snow have ravaged the buildings, but on they stand. I could have done it too; gone on indefinitely without deciding to pose a wrecking ball above everything my life is made of. There’s no defining reason for it in the creaks and cracks of my average housewife life. But then I met Kiyoshi. He’s the reason.

We follow Mizuki as she recounts the tale of her first and only affair which shook the foundation of her life. Mizuki can’t be described as a typical housewife in that she does not describe herself as such. In fact, there is never really a point where she feels she’s allowed to as people constantly make her feel like she’s not good enough. She comes from an atypical background as a lounge singer, a partying social butterfly who dreamed big of being a singer and lighting up the stages of America where she first found a sort of freedom from expectation as a student. This side of herself has been buried in favor of a salaryman husband, two children, and a comfortable life in a highrise apartment in Japan. She finds that she simply can’t blend in with her fellow wives, mothers, and caregivers despite how much she loves her children. She feels suffocated under the weight of her own husband’s lack of attention towards her as he focuses much more on his career and the demanding work culture of Japan. Whether he’s at home or not, he is always at work. However, Mizuki has proven herself as reasonable, understands why things are the way they are, and has no desire to disrupt her quiet life. Still, she’s struggling with depression and anxiety to the point that she even considers committing suicide, not because she wants to die… but because she just wants something to happen. Nearly flinging herself off the balcony makes her believe something has to change.

And something did. Kiyoshi.

The affair is not instant as many would believe and that’s actually the refreshing part of this story. It is a slow burn as she and Kiyoshi become friends. His fast pace, high society life reminds her of who she was before. Of the things she wanted. Kyoshi becomes the embodiment of the Mizuki who flirted in nightclubs and sang in bars and small venues. The Mizuki who had dreams and was free of obligation and responsibility. He turns into the very thing she needed as she begins to be happier in her place in life. By day she can enforce her devotion to her family, be the housewife she needs to be and by night, she could revisit her old self and relieve the stress of expectations. They do not sleep together until over halfway through the book and it’s not even treated as a groundbreaking moment. It’s simply an inevitability. The true affair is in the places she is able to go with Kiyoshi and who she is allowed to be at his side.

This book shows that the affair, the act of cheating not truly even about Kiyoshi, but about the feeling of suffocation and isolation Mizuki feels in her day-to-day life that couldn’t be alleviated. Much of it is tied to cultural expectations which Mizuki never truly desired to be part of, but was once content to put herself into. However, Mizuki truly has no desire to leave her family. Kiyoshi is charming and he has everything the past Mizuki would’ve wanted. He could bring her to Paris. He could make her life exciting. He could give her the attention she once needed. However, Mizuki comes to the hard realization that she is no longer that woman. She is someone different and what she truly needs can’t be found with Kiyoshi, but with finding a sort of peace with herself. So in saying goodbye to Kiyoshi, she puts to rest her past self. The breakup between them even takes place in a graveyard, where you often lay the past to rest as well as honor it in some way.

This book very much encompasses how hard it is to come to grips with dreams we never fully realized and lives we never live and how much those things can affect our present daily lives. But most importantly, how the longing for the past is simply a coping for something that is missing in our present. Our pasts are rarely so glamorous as we make them in our minds when things are going badly. Sometimes it’s just an earnest desire for some form of change even if we can’t or, more often than not, don’t desire to leave our current circumstances. Having a piece of writing explore this in such a realistic fashion was a rare treat in which you show much you love your family (your children; your husband) but also can find them the perpetrators of much of our stress, anxiety, and overall fury… as well as our isolation. In the succinctness of her writing, Emily Itami incapsulates the pressure and eventual breaks that happen when we leave our needs as individuals unresolved and how they can easily they can color everything around us. It’s quite eye-opening and touching to see how she circles around and comes back to her family understanding that who she is could never leave them.

Her finding the value of her family, husband and all, and defining who she truly was now as a person was the best part of this book and I expect others feel the same way. I think many would argue that it shouldn’t take an affair, but the affair is not the point. It is simply the avatar for her former self, the one she missed and needed to leave behind to define the new woman she is. If you decide to read this book there are many misconceptions you’ll need to leave behind, as this is not about the drama of a cheater, but the romance, reflection, and reshaping of a woman.

Here comes an assignment for those who have come this far:

On the nature of affairs, there are many reasons people cheat on their spouses and significant others. What do you feel about the nature of affairs? Do you believe you would be forgiving? What reasons would you find worth forgiving?

This has been Well-Read. Thank you for spending this time with me in my little corner. Don’t forget to like this post and share it with others who may be interested in Itami’s work. If you want to continue the conversation, consider joining the Shoal – the Spilled Ink official discord linked below.