A Book A Playlist: Lizard
There’s something about reading Banana Yoshimoto’s books that has always made me feel as though I’m reading a love letter to my twenties. Lizard, a collection of six short stories published when Yoshimoto was twenty-nine (she penned the Japanese edition’s afterword on her way to a Sonic Youth concert, and dedicated the American edition to Kurt Cobain, BANANA GURL WHY ARE YOU SO COOL) perfectly encapsulates why. Yoshimoto has this way of blending the mundane realities of life with the fantastical. Her protagonists are navigating awkward relationships, often struggling to connect with their families and straddling the invisible line between youth and adulthood. Lizard is particularly concerned with ideas of healing, the passing of time and the kismet – themes that I happen to think lend themselves easily to stories about twenty-somethings, and somehow Yoshimoto’s shape shifting, curses and cults complement all those growing pains so naturally. (For instance, ‘Helix’ gets into some Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind type material, and who is more concerned with erasing out regrettable memories than a twenty-something? Nobody!)
Reading Lizard is sort of like hanging out with a bunch of friends you definitely know that you LOVE but sometimes realise you don’t actually know that you LIKE. Yoshimoto makes herself at home writing about morally ambiguous decisions or situations in a way that makes you forget to cast judgement. For instance, ‘Dreaming of Kimchee’ outlines the paranoia of an ‘other woman’ turned wife, and is more about the relationship between the protagonist and her husband’s ex-wife than it is about the relationship between the protagonist and her husband. (In my opinion, the best of Yoshimoto’s writing often tends to centre around female friendships and relationships, and unfortunately this particular collection is a bit lacking in that department. If you’re interested you should check out Goodbye Tsugumi, Asleep and Hardboiled & Hark Luck.)
The highlight of the collection for me is definitely ‘A Strange Tale from Down by the River’ – the protagonist, Akemi, who is engaged to a man who lives in an apartment on the water, reflects on the sexual experiences she had before meeting him and tries to understand the emotions that living by the river is forcing her to confront. It’s classic Yoshimoto, and as beautiful as it is compelling. (Only Banana Yoshimoto could describe a hardcore sex addiction in the same way another writer might describe a young girl’s horse-and-astrology phase.)
Special mention should also go to another favourite Banana Yoshimoto collection, Hardboiled & Hard Luck, as mentioned above. I read through it in tandem with Lizard recently and so they’re currently hard to separate in my mind – although, published six years after Lizard, Hardboiled & Hard Luck is perhaps slightly more refined. I personally tend to think that onger short stories is where Yoshimoto excels, and ‘Hardboiled’ is possibly my favourite Yoshimoto offering ever (next to ‘Kitchen’, but, y’know…too obvious.) So, if you care about my opinion – which I hope you do, because otherwise you’ve just wasted, like, five minutes of your own time on that shit – you should check that one out as well.
Banana Yoshimoto’s books always feel a bit floaty and surreal and after reading them I usually end up spreading myself out across my bed and staring at the ceiling and thinking really deep happy thoughts about Life and The Universe. Which is a nice thing to do listening to this playlist as well. This playlist feels a bit like one of Banana Yoshimoto’s story collections; the songs kind of make sense together in a very particular sort of way. They’re all a bit floaty and surreal too. Oh, and I’ve included some Sonic Youth and a Nirvana cover — just in case Banana’s reading. xx