cover image The Lake

The Lake

Banana Yoshimoto, trans. from the Japanese by Michael Emmerich, Melville (Random, dist.), $23.95 (190p) ISBN 978-1-933633-77-0

Yoshimoto (Kitchen) delves into an elusive romance between an artist and a student, each of whom bears scars from unusual upbringings, in this clever, off-beat novel. The 30-year-old narrator earns a modest living as a mural painter in Tokyo, supported by her businessman father whom she sees only occasionally since the death of her mother; her parents never married, as her mother was a Mama-san of a nightclub, her father the devoted customer, and his family dead-set against the match, seeding a deep sense of shame and inadequacy in the girl. Presently, she has befriended a curious young man, Nakajima, who begins to sleep over at her place, though chastely. A student in an advanced program of genetics, he hints at terrible secrets in his childhood, which are gradually revealed after the two visit Nakajima's very strange friends in the countryside, and it's revealed that Nakajima had been kidnapped as a boy by a cult and brainwashed. Unsettling as Nakajima's story is, the narrator has grown to cherish him and must decide if their uncommon connection—not passionate, but comforting and near-maternal—will bring lasting happiness. Yoshimoto's marvelously light touch is perfectly captured by Emmerich's pristine translation. (May)