cover image Where the Wild Ladies Are

Where the Wild Ladies Are

Aoko Matsuda, trans. from the Japanese by Polly Barton. Soft Skull, $15.95 trade paper (288p) ISBN 978-1-59376-690-0

Matsuda’s groundbreaking collection (after the novella The Girl Who Is Getting Married) turns traditional Japanese ghost and yōkai stories on their heads by championing wild, complex women. In “The Peony Lanterns,” recently unemployed Shinzaburō gets an eerie visit from two women, Tsuyoko and Yoneko, who try to sell him peony lanterns. Yoneko, the elder of the two, tells Shinzaburō of 30-something Tsuyoko’s tragic life: a motherless daughter with a cruel father, she was forced to leave home before completing high school. Shinzaburō refuses the lanterns, though he gains an epiphany from the women’s unusual sales tactics: “nothing terrible would happen if you broke the rules.” In “Quite a Catch,” a young woman named Shigemi carries on a sexual relationship with the ghost of a woman who was killed by the man she refused to marry. Not all of Matsuda’s stories captivate. “Team Sarashina” is about a group of women who are assigned to various departments in their company and offer their support to flailing coworkers, but it’s too obtuse to get a handle on. Most of Matsuda’s stories, though, hit their mark, particularly her queer, feminist fables, including “A Fox’s Life,” about a woman who passively internalizes sexism in her workplace (“I’m a girl. I’m just a girl, after all”) until she realizes in middle age that she might be a fox. Matsuda’s subversive revisionist tales are consistently exciting. (Oct.)