Where the Wild Ladies Are, by Aoko Matsuda

Trigger warning for brief domestic violence.

In one of the stories in Aoko Matsuda’s collection, Where the Wild Things Are (smoothly translated by Polly Barton), a character reads Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are. This classic children’s story captures the character’s imagination but, in the end, the character is shocked when the creatures start to chant their love and desire to eat the protagonist at the same time. Although this isn’t the first story in the collection, this moment helped me realize one of the major themes in these linked stories. Matsuda’s stories show us characters who find happiness and purpose in letting go of social constraints. Wild things need to be wild, this collection tells us, even if they’re not sure they’re wild yet

A narrative starts to appear after the first few stories in Where the Wild Ladies Are. Character names start to reappear. Soon, we see Mr. Tei recruiting for a company that no one can remember the name of. This company—which we later learn is staffed by living and dead employees—seems to be the latest incarnation of a whole host of Japanese folk lore and myths. One department hires out Child-Rearing Ghosts. Another manufactures incense that has extraordinary powers. Thankfully, Matsuda included a series of notes at the end of the book that has brief summaries of all the stories and texts that are referenced in the stories. It was nice to know the backstories of all the supernatural characters and ghosts that show up in Where the Wild Ladies Are.

At first, I wasn’t sure about Where the Wild Ladies Are. The first story was a little long. Others in the collection I read with my eyebrows all the way up—especially the story about the woman who has so much jealousy that she buys cheap and/or easily repairable things that she can throw at her husband or destroy during her regular rages. It was strange to read an entire series of stories all about letting go of restraint to embrace their wilder emotions. So much of the literature I read features characters learning to stifle their passions, to “grow up.” I enjoyed seeing character go the other way for a change.

Linked short stories are my favorite type of short stories. Novels will probably always be my favorite kind of narrative, but I appreciate how varied linked short stories can be. The focus doesn’t have to stay on a small group of characters. Instead, we can see how characters’ own arcs brush up against others’. Also, as a frequent mystery reader, I really love watching for clues about the overarching narrative. It’s like a bonus story on top of all the other ones. Where the Wild Ladies Are is a terrific example of the genre.

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley, for review consideration.

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