Japanese Title: デッドエンドの思い出 (Deddo endo no omoide)
Author: Banana Yoshimoto (吉本 ばなな)
Translator: Asa Yoneda
Publication Year: 2003 (Japan); 2022 (United States)
Dead-End Memories collects five short stories whose purpose is to comfort and uplift the reader. None of the characters are bad people, and none of them does anything wrong. When people suffer, they do so off-camera, and only then in rose-tinted hindsight. Banana Yoshimoto’s fiction occasionally contains elements of darkness, and this is undeniably the case in Dead-End Memories. Nevertheless, the five stories in this collection are filled with light and sweetness.
The opening story, “House of Ghosts,” is classic Banana Yoshimoto. A young woman who aims to take over the management of her family’s restaurant falls in love with a young man whose parents are forcing him to inherit a local bakery. The couple bonds over home cooking, but the young man must leave soon to study in France. Also, his apartment is haunted. Thankfully, the ghosts of the former tenants, a long-married couple, aren’t bothering anyone, and they indirectly inspire the young woman to move forward without regrets by reminding her that life is long and full of opportunities. It’s all extremely wholesome.
The second story, “‘Mama!,’” is equally wholesome. The narrator, a junior editor at a large publisher, is poisoned at the company cafeteria by a man who was targeting a former lover. As she recovers, the editor remembers how she was rescued from her abusive mother and raised by her kind and loving grandparents. This early childhood trauma makes it difficult for her to recognize her fatigue, and she returns to work only to break down in tears on the job when she visits a writer’s house to collect his manuscript. The narrator’s boss is very understanding and grants her a month of paid leave. Having realized how precious life is, the narrator uses this holiday to marry her boyfriend and go on a honeymoon in Hawai’i. As in “House of Ghosts,” the most intimate and harrowing moments of the narrator’s suffering are glossed over in order to emphasize the process of healing.
The theme of healing carries through the other three stories in Dead-End Memories. In “Not Warm at All,” the narrator looks back fondly on a childhood friend who was murdered by his mother, while the narrator of “Tomo-Chan’s Happiness” finds herself nurturing a quiet attraction to a co-worker despite being sexually assaulted as a teenager. Meanwhile, the narrator of the title story, “Dead-End Memories,” is attempting to come to terms with a partner who seems to be doing his best to ghost her out of a serious long-term relationship. Perhaps because her situation is relatable to so many people, Yoshimoto is more comfortable allowing this story’s narrator to describe her emotional pain, albeit only with the support of the kind and handsome manager of the bar where she works. The jilted narrator ultimately decides that she has the right to move on and find her own happiness:
Maybe this has been a good thing after all. What I’m going through is only like being perched on a soft cloud and peering through a small gap at other people’s lives. The important thing is to keep your eyes open, because what you choose to pay attention to defines your world.
Despite the title of the collection, the stories in Dead-End Memories are about how painful experiences help us grow and mature as people. This may sound cliché; and, to be fair, it is. That being said, I would argue that Yoshimoto’s ability to address serious trauma with such a delicate touch is precisely why her writing continues to resonate with readers. Spending time with Dead-End Memories is like being assured by a close friend that bad things happen to everyone, but that everything will be okay in the end. Banana Yoshimoto’s stories are gentle and comforting and healing, and sometimes that’s exactly what you need.