LIZARD by Banana Yoshimoto (Grove: $18; 180 pp.) Say there are three zones: the surface, the middle and the depths. Banana Yoshimoto writes in the middle, in the place where Patty Duke once lived. Sometimes she scrapes bone, sometimes her characters gasp for oxygen. Her young men and women strain against tradition and are happier when it wins over risk: “Nothing seemed stable in my heart,” they say. “By the time I was eighteen, I couldn’t stand it any more, and so ran away,” they say. “I can picture myself now, like someone I’d see through a window,” they say. Each one, in each story, strains and strains against daily life and in the end capitulates: “In fact,” says a young, boringly married man on a train to a rapidly transmuting lizard/beautiful woman/homeless person next to him, “sometimes it’s so much fun at home that it makes me want to puke.” Some of this is idle chatter with the aura of profundity, like movies you see these days that are just two handsome kids walking and talking. Then some of it is religious, particularly when those kids make decisions about how they are going to try to live: “Your love is different from mine . . . but you and I are an ancient, archetypal couple, the original man and woman.” “I could work in a bar or something,” says one young woman, worried about her future. Then her next thought is: “The only thing that scares me is time passing, like when the soft branches of a willow tree are warmed by the sunlight one moment and then ripped by a typhoon the next.”

“I had fun writing these stories,” Banana writes from Tokyo in an afterword to her American audience on “an early spring evening, at the office. (I’m on my way to a Sonic Youth concert!)” Byeeee!!!