Publisher: Black Lawrence Press. May 2016.
Genre: Short Stories
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“The Return to Monsterland” opens 'Where We Go When All We Were Is Gone,' a collection of twelve fabulist and genre-bending stories inspired by Japanese folklore, historical events, and pop culture. In “Rokurokubi”, a man who has the demonic ability to stretch his neck to incredible lengths tries to save a marriage built on secrets. The recently dead find their footing in “The Inn of the Dead’s Orientation for Being a Japanese Ghost”. In “Girl Zero”, a couple navigates the complexities of reviving their deceased daughter via the help of a shapeshifter. And, in the title story, a woman instigates a months-long dancing frenzy in a Tokyo where people don’t die but are simply reborn without their memories.
Every story in the collection turns to the fantastic, the mysticism of the past, and the absurdities of the future to illuminate the spaces we occupy when we, as individuals and as a society, are at our most vulnerable.-Goodreads
Reading this collection of short stories rich with magical realism was such a delight while I was in Japan and afterward. For months beforehand, I had been watching a lot of Japaneses TV and listening to a lot of Japanese podcasts to work on listening comprehension. One of the things I watched was a kids shows that told simplified, cartoonized Japanese folktales. So as I read this book, there were a lot of moments where I already knew the story it was based on and I feel like I got more out of some of them. But, at the same time, there were several things that were very surprising to me (such as the long neck demon Rokurokubi, which is probably even more unsettling than it sounds). Both situations were fun to be in. Each story dives headfirst into a creatively imagined world where something from Japanese popular culture (i.e. Godzilla) or folklore (i.e. the kappa) is real. I loved this book for its fearlessness and its strangeness.
As is expected with short story collections, there are going to be some that are better than others. The ones that were good were really good. I think Girl Zero would have to be my favorite, due to how much gasping I did while reading it. There are a lot of moments of beauty throughout. But, unfortunately, a few of the stories fell kind of flat despite their interesting concepts. In a couple I just wasn't 100% sure why I was reading what I was reading, which isn't a great feeling to have. The stories that are good are magical and creepy and funny. It would be a shame for anybody interested in Japanese folklore and popular culture to miss out on these tales.
Sidenote: I went to Sequoia Nagamatsu's reading which was a ton of fun with a big crowd, but I was sad to find out that he had other readers there because that meant he only read one story, and it wasn't a favorite. I wanted him to read more!! Oh, also I won a big stuffed Godzilla at the reading, so I'm pleased. And this does not affect my review at all because it was a random raffle and I need my bribery to be more direct than that.
My favorite stories:1. // Girl Zero
2. // Rokurokubi
3. // The Peach Boy
4. // The Inn of the Dead's Orientation for Being a Japanese Ghost