Most Banana Yoshimoto stories feature melancholy Japanese women who can’t sleep, or can’t stop sleeping. They spend hours gazing out of windows (“What strange weather, I thought”), fascinated by their loneliness. Prompted by “chilly gusts of wind” or fireworks in the distance, they have sudden, mysterious epiphanies that change their lives forever.
Flush with meteorological updates, Yoshimoto’s latest book reworks the same formula in two stories, both about the loss of a loved one. In “Hard Luck,” the heroine, who seems to have ingested a box of Hallmark cards, deals with her sister’s coma by concentrating on all the sparkling stars in the sky, ultimately coming to realizations like “when you take a spill, you can always rise up from it with something good in your hand.” The loving-dreaming-sleeping woman in “Hardboiled” is less annoying, but spends most of the story unconscious. “Ah, I must have slept again . . . ,” she barely thinks, before going back at it. We’re privy to her nightmares both while they’re happening and after, at which point she reflects on basic themes (“I wonder why we feel so lonely? It’s odd, isn’t it?”). The prose is polite and pleasant, but preposterously moony. Barely awake in the first place, these characters are always “struggling, body and soul,” but Yoshimoto never convincingly conveys why.