Where We Go When All We Were Is Gone by Sequoia Nagamatsu (Black Lawrence Press, 2016)
This collection of short fiction begins with a tragedy experienced by a family who studies Godzilla and other kaiju (you know, Mothra, Rodan, Minilla?) and unfolds with letters, news clippings, and biological definitions. Where We Go When All We Were Is Gone is comprised of twelve stories that take the mythical and wrap our normal lives around it. Sequoia Nagamatsu deftly creates strong narratives by weaving together pieces much like how we come across news in our daily life: a headline there, a teaser here, a thought or a series of questions later.
Nagamatsu turns to Japanese myth, pop culture, speculative fiction, and experimental writing to create full and tangible characters (even when they are ghosts). His stories can be magical, real, or both and he moves through each genre smoothly and without care for classification. “Placentophagy,” which was featured in Read to Write Stories, deals with the practice of eating the placenta after birth and the overwhelming sadness of miscarriage. A few steps later, Nagamatsu sends you “The Inn of the Dead’s Orientation for Being a Japanese Ghost” which is simply what the title says. “Headwater LLC” describes the heartbreaking enslavement of the Kappa who spill highly addictive water from their bowl-shaped heads.
What I most adored in this collection was how Nagamatsu kept one foot solidly in the despair of death and the other in laughter. The stories in this collection cover a vast range of emotions — from the kind of devastation that causes the snotty sobbing you only really want to do when alone to the wise lightheartedness of those that are already dead and so much in between. Where We Go When All We Were Is Gone shows us how we might live and die with grace. Each story, varying in size and shape, exposes a humanness that resonates through time, species and realm.