... a series of funhouse mirrors, each story in the collection pushing readers to reconsider what is true, distorting the image so completely as to open the viewer to new and unexpected perspectives ... The dozen stories are uniformly strange but delivered in a straightforward cadence that gives lie to the strangeness. They are also wildly readable, each story turning societal norms on their head and leaving readers wondering if maybe it would make sense to honor the passing of a loved one by preparing and sharing a meal from their remains ... Each story displays a fine-boned architecture, a careful curation of details and paring away of the extraneous. The result is remarkable, the lean force of Murata's imagination rippling through each piece ... This, then, is the magic Murata works in Life Ceremony, the impressive way she is able to destabilize a mirrored reflection of humanity, giving back a strange and wonderful truth.
Murata’s prose is deadpan, as clear as cellophane, and has the tidiness of a bento box. She’s not the most subtle writer. You don’t read her for her extra-fine perceptual apparatus. You read her because when her stuff works, it’s chilly and transgressive at the same time ... A few of the stories are quite long; others are vignettes. A handful are banal...Even in her best stories, Murata has a weakness for thesis statements ... Murata’s prose, in this translation from the Japanese by Ginny Tapley Takemori, is generally so cool you could chill a bottle of wine in it. Body Magic is warmer, and more subtle. It made me wonder if she really needs the big-time conceits.
... her narratives are conspicuously weirder, weird in the sense of weird tales—dark and macabre, surprising and strange. The twelve stories blend humor and horror to examine societal norms, and to expose how bizarre and oppressive certain social standards and traditions can be, especially for women ... Human beings frequently like to think of themselves as consistent; they like to view their principles as reasonable and absolute. Yet by taking any premise to its most extreme and absurd conclusion, Murata explores how slippery and self-justifying a lot of activities are. Over and over, her characters discover that structures and hierarchies exist not because they are elegant or natural (or even because they are just and sustainable) but merely because certain segments of society have found them to be expedient ... Murata’s signature matter-of-fact tone makes this off-kilter reality both viscerally and intellectually provocative ... Murata’s style is deceptively blunt and direct, making for a lightning-quick read. And yet, the stories’ haunting premises linger in the mind. Even the very short stories, which initially struck me as high-concept but slight, got stuck in my head ... Life is ineffable, these stories remind us, its circumstances more mutable and multifarious than we may initially believe ... The sense of relativity that recurs throughout these stories feels scary but also perversely liberatory—as though, in Murata’s worlds, anything could happen, marvelous or terrible ... Maybe that’s the best way to immerse yourself in Murata’s peculiar realms—to understand that the experience will be bewildering and probably a little bit gross, but satisfying if you give in and let the weirdness wash fully over you.