Yoshimoto favors short novels that gradually reveal thin, almost translucent layers of her characters' personalities. Her latest, following in the style of earlier books such as Kitchen
and Asleep, is a careful examination of the relationship between two teenage cousins in a seaside Japanese town. Maria Shirakawa is a thoughtful young woman thrown by family circumstance (her parents never married; with her mother, she is waiting for her father's divorce from his current wife) into growing up with her cousin, Tsugumi Yamamoto, in her aunt and uncle's small inn. Tsugumi, who is chronically ill, possesses a mischievous charm that both maddens and amuses her family. As Maria describes Tsugumi: "She was malicious, she was rude, she had a foul mouth, she was selfish, she was horribly spoiled, and to top it all off she was brilliantly sneaky." Tsugumi's tenuous health seems to free her from the behavioral norms that govern Maria and Tsugumi's long-suffering older sister, Yoko, allowing her to curse, flirt with boys, concoct elaborate pranks and shock adults in a way Maria resents, envies and admires. Eventually, Maria's parents are united and she leaves to attend university in Tokyo, returning for a final summer during which the inn is being demolished, and this provides Yoshimoto with all the plot she needs to explore the difficult but affectionate bond between the cousins. Emmerich's translation overcomes the occasional awkward moment to render the frank yet understated language that animates this modest story. Agent, Jennifer Lyons. (Aug.)
Forecast:Yoshimoto's novels are always charmingly packaged, and
Goodbye Tsugumi is no exception. A pretty, blurred jacket image and the book's small size should tempt browsers.