cover image N.P.


Banana Yoshimoto. Grove/Atlantic, $18 (194pp) ISBN 978-0-8021-1545-4

Japanese novelist Yoshimoto follows her well-received Kitchen with an offbeat, intriguing, but ultimately unsatisfying tale about incest, suicide and broken relationships. NP (after an old, sad song titled ``North Point'') is the name of a short-story collection published in America by celebrated emigre writer Sarao Takase. The book seems, as one character says, to be cursed: Takase committed suicide, as did three would-be Japanese translators. Four years after the death of her boyfriend, who was the last of these translators, narrator Kazami Kano becomes involved with Takase's children, the twins Saki and Otohiko, and Otohiko's girlfriend, the willowy, messed up Sui Minowa. All three of them are obsessed with NP and particularly one story about a man's affair with a young girl whom he later discovers is his daughter--a thinly veiled description of Takase's affair with Minowa. With the ghostly figure of Takase, the four young people make for a messy stew of incest, lust and obsession that is eventually brought to a head by Minowa's shattering discovery that she is pregnant by Otohiko. Yoshimoto weaves some lyrical writing and philosophical intimations of the hand of fate into her minimalist prose, but on balance this story and its narcissistic characters fail to evoke much sympathy. (Mar.)