The subtitle of Revenge, Yoko Ogawa’s slender collection of stories, is “Eleven Dark Tales.” But while dark in subject matter, these tales are nearly delicate, and their overwhelming emotion isn’t revenge but an excruciating sadness. Filled with lonely people who are incapable of human contact, or who can only make human contact in macabre and unsatisfactory ways, they’re also interlinked, with bits of one story illuminating parts of another. Numbers and motifs—like strawberry shortcake or the creepy figures that emerge from a public clock—recur. “Fruit Juice” features an abandoned post office full of perfectly edible kiwi fruit. In “Old Mrs. J.” we find out how the kiwis got there in the first place. In one story a character is young and lonely, while in another story the character is old and just as lonely—or dead.

Speaking of deaths, Ogawa’s writing is full of such grace and sorrow that even the most grisly death has a weird beauty. She also adds touches of magical realism that are so skillful and subtle that the reader wonders if the things she describes can really happen. Can the young woman in “Sewing for the Heart” actually live with her heart beating outside of her chest? Why does absolutely everything handled by the lonely bachelor uncle in “The Man Who Sold Braces” and “Welcome to the Museum of Torture” fall to pieces?

As for the title: Yes, some people do get revenge, large or small, on people who displease them. But in Ogawa’s heartbreaking stories, life itself seems to have the last laugh.

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