The fiery, beguiling stories in Taeko Kōno’s collection Toddler Hunting and Other Stories are vertiginous tightrope walks between two planes of reality ... These stories have no interest in closure, not even oblique closure. Like those of many other good short stories, the ending of a Kōno story is narratively definitive. (A story can be ruined by stopping too early or too late; good stories have a sense of exactly when they become narratively definitive.) But somewhere right before the end, the story has taken a sharp, dizzying turn, so that when it finally lands, it is in a place that is not merely surprising and inevitable but on a different plane entirely, one removed from the established reality. The effect is profoundly unsettling. When I think of a Taeko Kōno story, I picture a glass filling with liquid. As the story reaches its end, the glass is filled to the brim. But in the final moment, the liquid spills over the side and lands on the surface below. That new plane, something that we hadn’t even considered before, is now—surprisingly yet inevitably—stained ... Kōno’s writing is shocking, ominous, and subversive; it lays bare the destruction and the renewal that freedom and desire can cause.
Taeko who? She ought to be better known, and in Japan, she is. Beginning with the 1961 story that lends the 'new' collection Toddler-Hunting and Other Stories its title, the Osaka-born Kono established herself there as one of the most radically talented authors of her generation, a writer’s writer whose often épater work was hailed for its spark and originality by figures as unlike her as Kenzaburo Oe and Shusaku Endo ... There is plenty of suspense, delayed and deferred, in Kono’s stories, which nevertheless refuse anything resembling a tidy ending. In fact, she often opts to end her stories with resonant but gnomic parting scenes and strikingly disjointed images, like the 'writhing mass' of black insects covering a slice of raw meat that mesmerizes the disturbed lawyer in 'Ants Swarm.'
An intriguing new voice is introduced in this selection of Kono Taeko’s stories written in the 1960s. Most focus on middle-class women in their thirties, married, but with no children. Although firmly rooted in the realist tradition, the stories have a surreal, dreamlike quality ... All the stories display a highly developed visual sense that gives them a cinematic quality and may remind readers of the work of other Japanese authors, such as Abe Kobe.