In the three novellas in "Asleep" (Grove, 177 pages, $21), Japanese author Banana Yoshimoto writes about exhaustion in a voice that is far more lucid than the torpor of her characters' lives.
Fumi observes: "Late at night the trees in my garden seemed to shine. Awash in light from the street, the quiet glittering green of the leaves and the deep brown of the trunk seemed startlingly vivid. I'd noticed this for the first time just recently, after I'd started drinking more heavily."
All three stories feature young women involved in complicated relationships. Mari remains numb to the world as she mourns for a lost lover. Fumi is haunted by memories of her former rival from a contentious love triangle. And Terako is involved with a man whose wife is in a coma.
These women sleep excessively, drink excessively and avoid work.
Ultimately, Yoshimoto's characters are shaken from their lethargy and saved by prophetic visions, real or imagined. But these visions lack dramatic weight; they seem at once planted and ephemeral, unlike the bold moves that gave Yoshimoto's novel "Kitchen" such emotional credibility.
The language in "Asleep" never strikes false, however, and it is pleasurable to read sentences so resonant of atmosphere and mood, and pitched in such unassuming tones.
"The light of the moon and stars was incredibly vivid, so brilliant it seemed as if they'd been washed," Fumi notes after an otherworldly meeting with her one-time rival, Haru.
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