|Dead-End Memories / Banana Yoshimoto|
trans. from the Japanese by Asa Yoneda
Berkeley, CA: Counterpoint, 2022, c2003.
I usually like Yoshimoto's writing a lot, so I thought that her latest story collection to be translated into English would be a good choice for the 16th annual Japanese Literature Challenge, hosted by Dolce Bellezza.
It's a collection of five stories, all featuring women dealing with some kind of significant moment in their life. The writing style is very typical of Yoshimoto -- calm, slow paced, with a strong focus on self reflection, melancholy, and food. Most of them have to do with relationships of some kind; family ties that can support or smother, friendships that might turn romantic as well, childhood friendships that exist in memory, and so on. There is a lot of trauma investigated by these protagonists, and this focus reveals societal expectations for Japanese women in particular to hide their pain away and continue on with making their families and society run smoothly. I think the cover captures the melancholy of fall and the feeling of emptiness that imbues many of the characters.
Yoshimoto has said that these stories are especially dear to her, so I went into this with some pretty high expectations. I did enjoy most of them, with a couple of jarring notes in one of the stories where the so-called love interest is misogynistic and really off-putting. But in so many of her stories, the men who are admired so much don't seem to do much to earn it.
I think that my favourite stories were Mama! (which deals with a woman poisoned at her work cafeteria, and her slow recovery, along with the unexpected support she receives during this experience) which was strange and touching in many ways. And I also found House of Ghosts memorable, with two young protagonists who both come from food service families, and they talk food as a more esoteric theme -- while they also experience the ghosts of an old couple who don't seem to realize they are dead. Ghosts and paranormal experience often show up in Yoshimoto's stories, and this one definitely falls into that tradition.
Overall, the book was a good read, though some of it fell a bit flat for me. Maybe because I read it all in one quick go, I felt like the stories ran together a bit. It's always better to let a story sit a bit before continuing on to another. Also, these were all very short stories, and in her longer work there is a bit more time to feel immersed in the story and the characters. I liked this but would recommend her classic, Kitchen, or one of my other faves, Moshi Moshi, as an introduction if you haven't already read much Yoshimoto.