From best-selling Yoshimoto (Goodbye Tsugumi, 2002, etc.), two tales of young women grappling with death.
While hiking on a mountain road, the narrator of “Hardboiled” encounters a mysterious shrine with a circle of black, egg-sized stones and is “overcome by an extremely unpleasant sensation.” Ever since her affair with Chizuru, a woman who “could see things other people couldn’t,” she too has been able to sense when a place holds bad memories. At her hotel room in a nearby town, she’s plagued by a dream visit from the angry Chizuru, who died in a fire not long after the narrator left her, and then by a knock on the door from a woman locked out of her room. The black stones keep turning up in odd places, and the hotel guest turns out to be a ghost, but these unsettling developments actually help the narrator come to terms with her guilt about Chizuru. “Hard Luck” opens with another unnamed narrator visiting the hospital where her sister lies in a coma. Kuni “suffered a cerebral hemorrhage after staying up several nights in a row preparing a manual for the person who was going to take over her job when she quit to get married”—which is as close to social commentary as Yoshimoto ever gets. Instead, the grieving sister thinks about the “sacred time” Kuni’s approaching death offers to her family: “time set aside for us survivors to think about issues we didn’t usually consider.” Fans will recognize the author’s trademark blend of traditional Japanese philosophical concerns and plain contemporary prose in both stories, and her descriptions of the natural world are as lovely as ever. These short narratives, however, seem a little too short. Always a spare writer, Yoshimoto makes every word count, but a few more words might have given “Hardboiled” and “Hard Luck” the fuller resonance of her delightful novels.
A little skimpy, though warmed by the simple expressions of human emotion that make this author’s work special.