Life Ceremony: Stories

Grove. Jul. 2022. 256p. tr. from Japanese by Ginny Tapley Takemori. ISBN 9780802159588. $25. F
“Thirty years ago a completely different sense of values was the norm, and I just can’t keep up with the changes,” moans Maho in the title story of Murata’s first collection published in the United States since her 2018 breakout with Convenience Store Woman. What has Maho so flummoxed is the eating of a deceased person’s flesh at the joyous celebrations that have replaced funerals, and many of the stories here explore inversions of accepted standards, challenging us to consider why we believe what we believe. Engaged couple Nana and Naoki quarrel because Naoki is repulsed by the use of human bodies for clothes and furniture, which to most people seems both to honor the deceased and to use resources efficiently. In a wily sendup of cross-cultural (mis)understanding, a woman gulps down blue-powdered health drinks with her husband even as she is horrified to learn that her sister plans to cook for her future in-laws—the sister claims to come from the magical city of Dundilas, where the food is decidedly different. But rapprochement is achieved in the end.
VERDICT Though a few stories could have been better developed, Murata’s premises are always eye-opening, and the result will intrigue and satisfy readers of literary and speculative fiction alike.
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