Alex Thorn is a man on a quest. His son Cody, a foreign exchange student, died in Japan a year ago, and he has no idea how or why, only that Cody's heart was removed post-mortem. His only lead is a bill, ostensibly from the Gone With the Wind funeral parlor, which leads him to Gaby Staunton, the company's sole American employee. Gaby is a former English professor, and has her own quest - to learn why she was fired a year ago. But first she is forced to play host to Alex, as her employer hopes she can convince him that the company had nothing to do with Cody's death. As she and Alex are drawn closer together, she soon starts to question whether her boss is really innocent.
This book contains examples of:
- Christmas Cake: Invoked early on, when Jiyuko tells Alex about her relationship troubles. She's not happy with her boyfriend, but is afraid to leave him because she's over 25, and thus Japanese society regards her as close to spinsterhood. This is also a source of much of Gaby's misery; being over thirty, she is constantly advised by her male colleagues to try and settle down and get married rather than continue working.
- Deliberate Values Dissonance: Alex and Gaby's respective quests for answers constantly run afoul of Japanese culture, which dislikes people asking direct questions. The novel also does not gloss over the sexism that is rampant in Japan, especially in academia.
- False Friend: For most of the novel, Lester comes off as a complete asshole and pig who nonetheless has Gaby's back. Then Gaby learns that he helped her get fired, in the hopes of stealing her old job.
- Ill Girl: Gaby suffers from ulcerative colitis, requiring frequent trips to the bathroom and constant doctor's visits. Towards the end of the novel, she develops polyps in her colon, forcing her to undergo surgery.
- Marriage of Convenience: Alex offers to marry Gaby so that she can get surgery to remove her polyps. She declines the offer, but allows him to pose as her husband.
- Organ Theft: As Alex and Gaby look for answers about Cody's death, it soon becomes obvious that his missing heart ended up on the black market, as Cody was a Buddhist, and thus did not want his organs removed after death. In fact, it was implanted in Mr. Aoshima.
- Slut-Shaming: Gaby's interactions and burgeoning relationship with Alex are hampered by her fears that letting him get any closer than arm's length would lead to her neighbors and co-workers gossiping about her. Her fears are not entirely unfounded, as it turns out that the reason she lost her teaching job was because Lester and Marubatsu spread rumors about her promiscuity.
- Spotting the Thread: Gaby finds several signs that the bill that Alex received was a forgery, including the fact that the bank to which he sent the money is not the bank her company uses and the fact that the address listed is wrong.