Hardboiled & Hard Luck by Banana Yoshimoto

“I felt as if this place I had come to was nowhere. As if I no longer had a home to return to. That road I had been on didn’t lead anywhere, this trip would never end—it seemed to me as if next morning would never arrive.”

Banana Yoshimoto is at her whimsical best in the two short stories collected in Hardboiled & Hard Luck.
Her storytelling is so carefree, unconcerned by plot or traditional narrative structures. Yet, it is characterized by a breeziness that adds a propelling energy to her stories. Maybe this energy comes from her protagonist’s voices, which remain easy-going and often oddly cheerful, regardless of their circumstances. Far from inducing one to sleep, the dreamlike atmosphere that is typical of Yoshimoto’s work, has a charming effect. Yoshimoto’s knack for surreality, and her tendency to dabble in magical realism, revitalize what would otherwise be more grounded slice-of-life stories. Yoshimoto’s off-beat realism is charming, occasionally bizarre, and ultimately heartwarming.

In ‘Harboiled’, my favorite of the two stories, we follow an unnamed narrator who after a hike in the mountains she goes to stay at a hotel. We learn that it is the anniversary of her ex-lover’s death. The narrator dreams of this lover, a woman by the name of Chizuru, and recalls the way they came together and, eventually, apart. The narrator is not only visited by Chizuru, another woman comes to see her. While the story features ghosts and haunted places, the narrative feels far from eerie. These visitations feel far from fantastical, but rather natural extensions of the ‘real’ world. While the narrator is taken aback by her encounters with the dead, she takes the experience in stride, and so does the woman working at the hotel. The bittersweet mood permeating this story adds to the overall atmosphere. Witty yet heartfelt, ‘Hardboiled’ is a delightfully dreamy story about past loves and regrets.

The second story instead follows a young woman whose sister is in a coma. Knowing that she will soon die, the sister longs for past days. She forms a tentative connection with the older brother of her sister’s fiancé, but the timing makes it impossible for them to explore or deepen their relationship. This story does seem to incorporate many of Yoshimoto’s thematic trademarks (sisters, comas, jokes about incest, cold male love interests), but given its brevity, it isn’t weighed down by them.

I guess both stories in this collection are about letting go, reconciling yourself with past loves, and moving forward. Balancing melancholy with humor, Hardboiled & Hard Luck makes for a quick yet dreamy read.

My rating: ★ ★ ★ ½
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