Fragile People in Love
“The Lake” has an interesting premise. Take one of those children you see in the news, who suffered some unthinkable atrocity, and fast-forward to his life as an adult, trying to live as normal a life as possible. How would he be affected? What would he study in school? Could he ever trust anyone again? Could he fall in love? Would he need someone equally damaged to love him in return?
You want to know what atrocity don’t you? Well, so does Chihiro. The illegitimate daughter of a respectable businessman and a bar hostess who died too young, Chihiro has her own emotional issues. She finds a certain comfort in her budding romance with the shy guy from across the street. But for all his kindness Nakajima is shadowed by something in his past, something he won’t talk about but which could explain so much about his character. Why does he fall asleep holding a kitchen grate tucked under his arm? Who are his mysterious
friends, the dwarfish Mino and his psychic sister Chii who never moves or speaks and communicates only through dream images? In dealing with these mysteries and burdens, she does the only thing logical. She paints a mural of monkeys.
I can’t claim to be a huge Yoshimoto Banana fan. I have read Kitchen and Asleep and some of her other work, and enjoyed them. But I rarely seek her out. I find her a little too light. Too fluffy. However, I enjoyed “The Lake” for exactly those qualities. Yoshimoto took a deadly serious subject and went the opposite way with it. There is no heavy drama, no dramatic fights or flights. They don’t follow the standard pattern of “Two misfits fall in love, break up over a misunderstanding, then realize they are perfect for each other” that would be
required of a Hollywood romance. Chihiro and Nakajima are just two people damaged by their pasts who find each other, and discover, to their surprise, that they might just be good for each other. And able to heal and move on. “The Lake” is a sweet love story, with just the right amount of bitter to give it meaning.
Translator Michael Emmerich did a commendable job with “The Lake.” Emmerich has translated several Yoshimoto novels, as well was works by my favorite Japanese author, Kawabata Yasunari. He has a good grasp of the nuance of language found here. I have read Yoshimoto in Japanese, and these clipped, short sentences are trademark of her style. The way the language starts out shallow and breezy, but becomes more complicated and dense, is a conscious choice that shows how Chihiro and Nakajima’s relationship deepens and develops over the course of the book.