cover image Hardboiled & Hard Luck

Hardboiled & Hard Luck

Banana Yoshimoto, , trans. from the Japanese by Michael Emmerich. . Grove, $21 (149pp) ISBN 978-0-8021-1799-1

Like twins whose paths diverge dramatically, these two gentle stories share little beyond the mesmerizing voice of their creator. The surreal subject matter and dreamy narration of "Hardboiled" make it read rather like a bedtime story gone awry. When the young female narrator realizes that it's the anniversary of her lover's death, several curious events suddenly make sense: a stone from a creepy shrine that finds its way into her pocket; a fire at an udon shop where she'd just been eating; and a nighttime visitation by the ghost of a woman who committed suicide. "Harboiled" drags a bit, but "Hard Luck" is a pleasure, even if it's almost as downbeat as its predecessor. This time, a young female narrator is standing watch over her older sister, Kuni, whose brain is slowly dying after a cerebral hemorrhage. As their parents gradually lose hope for Kuni's recovery, the narrator makes her own peace by forging a bond with her sister's fiancé's brother. In this gemlike story, Yoshimoto (Goodbye Tsugumi ) takes a subtle, graceful look at the relationship between the sisters and the fault lines in this grieving family, elevating her little book from fine to downright moving. Agent, Jennifer Lyons. (July)