Book Review // Dead-End Memories ⭐⭐⭐

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Book Name: Dead-End Memories
Author: Banana Yoshimoto
Genre: Modern Fiction | Short Stories
Pages: 208

Dead-End Memories is a small collection of five short stories centered around women who endure through hardships and come through to healing.

Recommended for lovers of multi-layered short stories, and for those who enjoy character-focused, thoughtful, and slower-paced tales

Content Warning:
death, murder, attempted murder, sexual assault

Review: 3/5 ⭐
I received a copy of this book from the publication team in exchange for a review. All opinions are my own.

Banana Yoshimoto works her magic yet again in Dead-End Memories. Her prose never wavers in its quiet beauty. As you’ll see below, I highlighted way too much again, just like in Kitchen.

While the stories are not interconnected, they each showcase different ordeals and how the five women handle their circumstances. Rather than focusing on the details of what happens to them, Yoshimoto explores their inner lives, thoughts, and emotions, and grasping for recovery and healing.

And that, that is what I appreciate about Banana Yoshimoto’s works the most. She’s not a sensationalist. To her, the plot serves to progress the character, not the other way around. That’s how it should be, in my honest opinion. I’m much more interested in people and reading about how they navigate life circumstances, and how they change and grow through them. I love those kinds of stories.

There were certain things that fell short for me with this book. While skillfully written, none of the stories moved me to the same extent that Kitchen did (which is, perhaps, an unfair comparison). Only one of the five stories touched my cold little heart, but that one I truly loved.

Despite writing of tragedies, Yoshimoto weaves her tales with gentle sensitivity. They left me with melancholy, but a sadness infused with hope. I still recommend this book to those looking for a more meditative read.

↠ Get your copy of Dead-End Memories ↞
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Anyone can be kind when they’ve got enough money and free time, and no problems, don’t you think? What I’m saying is, if I stay at home, that’s all my niceness will ever be. And either something dark and unpleasant starts to grow in me, or I’m stuck with that superficial niceness until I die.

At the funeral, middle-aged men whom Grandma had fed and counseled when they were young men turned up in black suits and told stories about times they brought their dates for meals at the restaurant, or how she comforted them with fried prawns when their girlfriends broke up with them. For the first time, I understood what a powerful thing it was to be there for people in the background of their lives.

Ghosts probably lived in ghost time–time that flowed in its own strange way, and forever transcended our own. Couldn’t mixing in it, even just a little, sap you of some of the vitality you needed to live in this world?

We were speaking familiarly now, and it felt bittersweet. And then, strangely, time was flowing differently than usual. It didn’t turn back, or even stop. Time simply floated open and then started to expand. In the sunlight, in a space so vast it might have reached the skies, time turned eternal and wrapped us together.

This time we were in now would never end, we thought. This was it. We’d known something was missing, felt that something had been lost. We’d known it somewhere in our hearts, but never suspected it was this. My soul spoke, and what it said was: I’ve been lonely I couldn’t even feel it. The lights inside us both, the clean and clear light outside and the light that now glowed between us all joined together as one, and lit the way to the future.

We’d nurture our connection, which was neither simply physical nor solely emotional, and that would expand the space that belonged to just the two of us until there was no escaping it.

But we’d never have better than that time, under the cloudy sky, wrapped in the comforter, in the warm room inhabited by ghosts.

We’d nurture our connection, which was neither simply physical no solely emotional, and that would expand the space that belonged to just the two of us until there was no escaping it. … But we’d never have better than that time, under the cloudy sky, wrapped in the comforter, in the warm room inhabited by ghosts. The feeling we found then would always be the foundation of our relationship. The feeling we found then would always be the foundation of our relationship. And someday we’d disappear like that old couple, leaving barely a trace.

Life seemed simpler at first glance, when in fact it existed within a flow that was far bigger, as vast as the seven seas. My dead grandma was part of it now, and Iwakura’s mom. The old couple, too. They were all part of that flow, and though each of us might strive or struggle against the current, we were all, in the end, part of the same water.

Maybe everyone acted on the surface like we were “supposed” to, but the real point of it was the exchange of something precious that happened just underneath.

But that day, I recognized that I’d been uplifted by human goodness–which somehow survives through the uncertain workings of this world in which things weren’t fair, and no one ever knew how long they had.

I’d always believed I didn’t take up a lot of space in this world–that it hardly mattered whether I was here or not. When a person left, the people around them got used to their absence. That was true enough. But when I pictured the world without me, and the people I loved living on in it, I couldn’t help but tear up. The only thing missing from these tableaux was me, but suddenly they looked much lonelier. And even if that hole was there only temporarily, before the other characters all moved on into the distant future, the space where I would have been seemed to harbor a glow, like something very precious. I wanted to cherish it, like trees, sunlight, or cats I met on the street. Astonished by this revelation, I looked up at the sky again and again. Here I was, with a body, looking up at the sky. A place with me in it. I thought about the life that lived inside this body of mine, which could only ever exist once, its beauty like a sun setting in the distance.

The way our paths happened to cross in this world meant that things could never have worked out between us. But in some other world, far away, deep, deep down, by some clear waterside, I see us–smiling, feeling kind, and being good to one another.

We lived above the shop, on the second floor, I grew up surrounded by the smell of books, inside the dry smell and the silence that soaks up the sounds particular to spaces full of paper.

In the rose-colored world where I lived there was space and depth, and as much air to breathe as I wanted, and multitudes of things that opened and closed with dizzying speed. That space constricted a little when I spent time with other people, but it wasn’t a problem, because I knew I could quickly return to that world of my own. That was how I became a writer, and finally found a place to belong.

In the picture books I read as a child, lights seen in the distance always represented the promise of warmth. A person lost in the mountains spots a glimmer among the trees, or a solitary wanderer suddenly feels homesick at the glow and voices coming from a stranger’s home.

Once, he said to me, “Mitsuyo, there’s something round and beautiful and lonely inside of you. Kind of like a firefly.”

This was what it took, I realized, to be something that survived. Not just constancy, or strength. But–like the ever-flowing river–to engulf everything that came your way and move swiftly on as though it had never been.

I often wonder whether those that are too pure are destined to live fleeting lives, like cats that are beautiful and white as snow, or birds with gossamer feathers.

Happiness descends on you suddenly, regardless of circumstance, and so indifferently that it seems cruel. It doesn’t care where you are, or who you’re with. You don’t see it coming. You can’t make it. It might arrive with your next breath, or you might never get to experience it no matter how long you wait. Like the movements of waves, or shifts in the weather, the miracle lies in wait for everyone. I just didn’t know it then.

My days of subsisting on old memories like they were hard candy were over.

This feels good, I thought. I’m just happy he’s here. I don’t need him to be mine. I wanted to appreciate him the way I did giant trees in the park, which gave people shelter and relief but didn’t belong to anybody.

It struck me that family, work, friendships, engagements–all of these were like spiderwebs placed to protect people from the more distressing colors that lurked within themselves. The more safety nets you had under you, the less far you had to fall, and if you were lucky you might live your entire life without even noticing what was below.

I was sure that the things I saw in my short time here–days viewed only through a lens of grief, as through the bottom of a glass–had been firmly etched in my memory, and would serve me well wherever I went. Because of that, I felt ready to let go, as though I were coming to the end of a long voyage.

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