cover image The Water Buddha Drinks

The Water Buddha Drinks

Banana Yoshimoto. Grove/Atlantic, $22 (224pp) ISBN 978-0-8021-1590-4

In her third novel, Yoshimoto somewhat haphazardly explores the drug-related death of a beautiful young movie actress, Mayu, and the wake of grief it causes among her loved ones. Unlike her marvelously taut, sensitively imagined chronicles of chic young Tokyoites (Kitchen and Lizard), Amrita lacks a coherent plot and suffers from awkwardly written stream-of-consciousness passages. The occasionally stilted sentence (""I listened to my brother's footsteps tediously climb off to bed"") makes one wonder how many of this novel's flaws are due to the translation. The book is narrated by Mayu's younger sister, Sakumi, a 20-ish waitress who lives at home with her mother, Yukiko, and her grade school-age half-brother, Yoshio. After Mayu's death, Sakumi suffers a severe head injury that erases most of her memory. She soon begins a cloying romance with Mayu's lover, Ryuichiro, a literary novelist. Meanwhile, Yoshio develops special ""powers""--he has visions and hears voices--and loses all interest in school. Sakumi struggles with her reemerging memories, especially those concerning Mayu. Because of the novel's loose structure, these various pieces of story and character never really hold together, and Sakumi's emotional journey is clouded by bouts of unnamed ""strange feelings."" In previous books, Yoshimoto has demonstrated delightful subtlety and wit. Here, however, her usual gift for telling indirection gives way to formlessness. (July)