cover image Life Ceremony: Stories

Life Ceremony: Stories

Sayaka Murata, trans. from the Japanese by Ginny Tapley Takemori. Grove, $25 (256p) ISBN 978-0-8021-5958-8

In this off-kilter collection, Murata (Convenience Store Woman) brings a grotesque whimsy to her fables of cultural norms. Eating habits are a recurring theme. In “A Magnificent Spread,” a woman plans to serve strange dishes from her imaginary kingdom, “the magical city of Dundilas,” at a gathering for her fiancé’s parents, who have their own dietary preferences. The moral, it seems, is that one shouldn’t impose one’s culture on other people. The title story is set in an alternate Japan with an endangered human population, which has led to the macabre custom of eating deceased people at their funerals and then finding an “insemination partner.” In “Eating the City,” a forager prowls Tokyo for local greens—dandelions, mugwort, fleabane—in an effort to develop a closer connection to the urban jungle. Seeing a homeless person on one of her outings, she reflects: “I was probably more a feral human than he was.” The final story, “Hatchling,” presents a reductive take on the difference between one’s social persona and one’s authentic self. The wooden dialogue adds to the sense of comic defamiliarization, which produces the kind of laughs that catch in the throat. Like the author’s novels, this brims with ideas though it’s less enchanting. (July)