Thersa Matsuura. Counterpoint (PGW, dist.), $14.95 paper (192p) ISBN 9781582434896
Counterpoint LLC has just released A Robe of Feathers and Other Stories — my debut collection of seventeen dark stories introducing you to that dreamy place in Japan where reality mixes with folklore, superstition, and myth.
“In Japan, the line that divides myth from reality is not merely blurred, it is nonexistent. Superstitions, legends, and folk myths are passed down through generations and pervade daily living.
When a child playing near a river fails to return home, it is whispered that she was swept away by an adzuki arai, or Bean Washer. When a man boarding a ship hears the ringing of an unseen insect, it is announced that a funadama (Boat Spirit) is present and so the auspicious harbinger of smooth seas and abundant catch is celebrated. Even something as innocuous as waking up to find your pillow at the foot of your bed is thought to be the trick of a makura gaeshi, otherwise known as a Pillow Turner. Nothing is as simple as it seems. Your neighbor isn’t merely an eccentric old woman—she might very well be a shape-shifting, grudge-harboring Water Sprite.
The Japanese examine life and living with the keenest eyes and the most vivid of imaginations. Thersa Matsuura has captured that essence in this darkly insightful collection illuminating the place where reality falters and slips into the strange and fantastical.”
“Inspired by Japanese folklore, Matsuura’s debut story collection is as clever as the mythical spirits and creatures who romp through her fable-like tales. Although her penchant is for the malevolent and unforgiving, , the humans who populate these seventeen stories are seldom innocent victims. Even when led astray by otherworldly tricksters (such as the oni in “The Seed of the Mistake”) or tortured by spiteful gods (like the God of Smallpox in “Yaichiro’s Battle”), it is the humans’ flaws – greed, cowardice, lack of compassion – that make them vulnerable. Matsuura depicts such failings insightfully, and, at her best, reveals them gradually.”
“The captivating stories gathered here offer lively glimpses of Japanese culture, urban and rural, present and past.” (May)
Charles de Lint (Fantasy and Science Fiction: Books To Look For)
“The back cover blurb begins: ‘In Japan, the line that divides myth from reality is not merely blurred, it is nonexistent. Superstitions, legends, and folk myths are passed down through generations and pervade daily living.’ I repeat it here because those words pretty much sum up the overall atmosphere of the stories collected here. They take place now, but it’s a now in which the everyday and the marvelous blur.
I don’t know as much about Japan as probably I should, but it strikes me as a place where opposites often combine to form a unified whole. My grandmother was Japanese and she certainly personified that. In her home, exquisite art and elements of tacky pop culture had equal weight. She was a devout and practicing Buddhist–meditating daily and maintaining her shrines–yet firmly rooted in the physical world and appreciating its pleasures.
The stories in A Robe of Feathers are like that, too. They blend dichotomic elements, or shape uneasy alliances, in order to illuminate a greater whole. Even when the nature of the material appears explicit–ghost and small gods and demons–the conclusions can be…well, less that conclusive. But they are always illuminating.
Sometimes there juxtapositions are literal, as in the story of a country widower, put into a modern retirement home by his loving children, who must come to terms with the twin mysteries of high tech gadgetry and the no-tech spiritworld.
Or the boy in the title story who builds a decorated bicycle to win the heart of a Manga-loving girl, his endeavors carrying the echoes of an old folktale.
Or the middle-aged agoraphobic woman who feels that her thoughts can be heard whenever she steps out into the modern world and finds herself seeking comfort in her own past.
It’s all fascinating material–very fresh to Western ears in both subject material and characterization–and comes to us wrapped in some of the most gorgeous prose I’ve read in a while. The stories are eerie, at times disturbing, occasionally sweet natured, but always compelling.
A Robe of Feathers is a truly unique collection that suits no easy categorization except that of excellence.”
Jim Melvin (author of The Death Wizard Chronicles)
Like many horror buffs, I have become desensitized by repeated scenes of outlandish violence. Simply put, they no longer frighten me — probably because they don’t seem real.
“A Robe of Feathers: And Other Stories,” however, is an entirely different animal. I had little idea of what to expect, and the first page or two of this ethnic anthology’s opening story lulled me into passivity. The prose was elegant and sophisticated, but since when is elegant and sophisticated scary?
Read the ending of the first of Thersa Matsuura’s seventeen short stories and you’ll find out for yourself. “A Robe of Feathers” frightens not with blood, but with subtlety. It sends chills up your spine not with gore, but with insidious journeys into the subconscious.
“A Robe of Feathers” gave me nightmares. But not in the ways you might expect. Instead, it slithered into the dark recesses of my mind and found things cowering there that are better off left alone. All in all, this is a brilliant yet disturbing work. Even the Stephen Kings of the world could learn a thing or two from Matsuura.
— Jim Melvin, author of The Death Wizard Chronicles, a six-book epic fantasy
More Great Reviews:
Asian Review of Books (reviewer: Todd Shimoda)
Where Life Pivots Easily (reviewer: Lee Kotner)
Horror Fiction Review (reviewer: Colleen Wanglund)
And three of my stories were given honorable mention in Ellen Datlow’s Best Horror of the Year, volume two (“Devils Outside”, “Hate and Where it Breeds”, and “Taro’s Task”)