“She was still there inside me now, just as she always was: a life put on hold, a memory I didn’t know how to handle.”
Hardboiled & Hard Luck by Banana Yoshimoto consists of two separate novellas, Hardboiled and Hard Luck, both of which are masterfully written from the point of view of an unnamed woman narrator who is dealing with the emotional aftermath of the death of a loved one.
The first novella, Hardboiled, is a Gothic-style story about loneliness, steeped in magical realism. A year after the death of her girlfriend, the narrator feels guilty about her lack of emotions, having hardened herself against her own grief. This is a ghost story, and the narrator eventually comes to terms with the death of her lover and her own feelings through conversations with ghosts in a haunted hotel. The dead ghosts feel more human than living, breathing people:
“Ultimately, though, it’s living people that frighten me the most. It’s always seemed to me that nothing could be scarier than a person, because as dreadful as places can be, they’re still just places; and no matter how awful ghosts might seem, they’re just dead people. I always thought that the most terrifying things anyone could ever think up were the things living people came up with.”
In Hard Luck, the first-person narrator deals with the slow death of her sister, who has been left in a vegetative state due to a cerebral hemorrhage. She is slowly fading away, only being kept alive by a respirator in the hospital.
As usual, Banana Yoshimoto captures the emotions perfectly:
“Death isn’t sad. What hurts is being drowned by these emotions.”
Eventually the narrator finds peace in accepting her sister’s death:
“And it struck me that if anything was a miracle, it was this: the lovely moments we experienced during the small, almost imperceptible periods of relief. The instant the unbearable pain and the tears faded away, and I saw with my own eyes how vast the workings of the universe were, I would feel my sister’s soul.”
Banana Yoshimoto’s writing is sparse, elegant, and beautiful throughout Hardboiled & Hard Luck. She conveys emotions in the simplest possible way, but always in a way that strikes right to the heart.