review of Life Ceremony

If you've read much of Sayaka Murata before, then from the facts that (a) the title of one story is "Life Ceremony" and (b) it starts by telling us a man has "passed away", you can probably already deduce that the ceremony is gonna involve eating that guy. Murata's just that kind of writer. Don't worry, it's not a spoiler; cannibalism's just the starting point, the real shock value comes later. The most, uh, memorable scene in the story and the book is when a man the protagonist has just met hands her a fresh bottle of his cum, which society expects her to receive gratefully. Food poisoning due to undercooked grandpa meat also makes an appearance.

The foods in "A Magnificent Spread" are tame by comparison - you could probably convince me to try "[d]andelion stems braided and simmered in orange juice" if you tried hard enough. But as a picky eater, I must say I appreciate the story's moral: let people eat whatever they're comfortable with and leave them the f*** alone about it.

"Eating the City" tries to communicate some of the appeal of urban foraging:

Now that I had learned to walk like an animal, I realized how much I had been viewing the city as a collection of symbols. I had been faithfully following these artificial symbols, thinking that this turn would take me to the station, that this was a sidewalk, those places over there were restaurants, and so forth. When I ran my gaze over the world with an empty stomach, the surroundings shed the armor of these symbols and revealed their true nature.

"Puzzle" describes a woman's journey from alienation to connectedness, in a way that's both heart-warming and disturbing. She begins to view buildings and vehicles and the city as a whole through an organic lense; and by the end, she sees other people as part of her own body. I enjoy her attitude toward packed crowds:

Long ago the term forest bathing had been popular, but Sanae preferred "people bathing" like this.

"Hatchling" follows a woman whose habit of adopting radically different personalities around different people leads her to think she "didn't have a personality of [her] own". This story has perhaps the most mortifying ending: to make herself legible to her fiance, she pretends that a new personality with a made-up backstory is actually her true inner self. For him, it feels like she's being vulnerable with him and that they're now connecting in a deeper way. For her, the realization that he'll now behave completely differently around her forever comes too late.