... ushers in a new moment for how contemporary Japanese literature represents its ghosts stories. Barton’s translation is like butter, making it all the more magical a read ... Matsuda seizes and subverts Japanese storytelling by employing female ghosts who simply refuse to behave and remain subservient to men and male desire. While this sounds overstated, it seems we cannot bark enough ... The story structures enable what seems like self-commentary, but because they are embedded in an implicit conversation with classical ghost stories, they do not feel self-conscious or 'I’m being clever.' At times the prose resembles an absurdist riff on self-help 'femininity,' taking a turn into a horror film undermining the same femininity, rendering the subject of the story a ghost altogether. The tales employ such sweet-talking sabotage of gender role expectations, let alone a ghosting' of the ghost tales on which they are premised. Matsuda, teetering between these disparities, graciously brings contemporary pop culture and classical storytelling together ... These stories are shockingly blunt, comedic, urban, contemporary, beautifully written, and relatable ... Moving into the syntax of rakugo or kabuki, the stories exist as intimate dialogues and monologues, taken not just as literary text, but as performative scripts/monologues. In this capacity, the published text has a larger context. It exceeds the page. It offers internal dialogue and direct address. It implies stylized performance. A tall order, the writing and the translation live up to it ... Matsuda, crisply current, is aware of literary and historical precedent.
From a woman empowered by her thriving hair to another who finds her mojo with the skinhead look, Matsuda entertainingly engages the breadth of feminine identity and beauty ... Peppering her short stories with references to Repetto ballerinas, Starbucks coffees, and trendy Scandinavian interiors, Matsuda attunes her traditional characters to contemporary Japan. Her heterogeneous writing style contributes to the collection’s vibrant rhythm. Ranging from a short story formatted as a magazine column to a first-person narrative from the point of view of a tree, the author decisively updates her source materials to offer a fresh critique of Japan’s stance towards women ... Physical appearance and socially prescribed beauty standards are not Matsuda’s only concerns. Her stories demonstrate how Japan’s restrictive gender roles still heavily influence the country’s women ... With this collection, Matsuda subverts the typical male-dominated workplace to look the chauvinism of contemporary Japanese society right in the eye. And her gaze is burning.
Where the Wild Ladies Are is an audacious book, a collection of ghost stories that's spooky, original and defiantly feminist. All of the stories in Matsuda's collection are based, loosely, on traditional Japanese stories of yōkai, ghosts and monsters that figure prominently in the country's folklore. But Matsuda puts her own clever spin on them, and each of her stories feels original and contemporary ... And what remarkable stories they are. Like the subject matter of the book, Matsuda's writing, and Polly Barton's masterful translation, seems to exist on a higher plane — the author seems to see things the rest of us can't (or won't), and writes with a subtle self-assuredness mixed with a sly, unexpected sense of humor. Where the Wild Ladies Are would make for great Halloween reading, although these aren't the same old horror stories you've encountered before — they're novel, shimmering masterworks from a writer who seems incapable of being anything less than original.