Disasters, accidents, and deaths abound in Bluebeard’s First Wife. A woman spends a night with her fiancé and his friends, and overhears a terrible secret that has bound them together since high school. A man grows increasingly agitated by the apartment noise made by a young family living upstairs and arouses the suspicion of his own wife when the neighbors meet a string of unlucky incidents. A couple moves into a picture-perfect country house, but when their new dog is stolen, they become obsessed with finding the thief, and in the process, neglect their child. Ha’s paranoia-inducing, heart-quickening stories will have you reconsidering your own neighbors.
Ha's outstanding collection (after Flowers of Mold) delivers heavy doses of guilt, hope, and pain. The opener, "The Star-Shaped Stain," follows a young mother a year after her kindergartner daughter died in a fire along with her 21 classmates while on a school trip. When the woman visits the site two months later with other grieving parents, their wounds are made raw by a drunk storekeeper who claims to have seen a child running away from the burning building. In straightforward prose, Ha's simple, devastating tale sets the mood for what's to come. The title story brilliantly explores the secrets and silence inside the microcosm of an opportunistic marriage, as Ha flips the switch from ordinary domestic descriptions to harrowing violence, the tone perfectly measured in Hong's translation. Other highlights include "Joy to the World," in which a mysterious pregnancy devastates a couple on the verge of marriage; "On That Green, Green Grass," an exploration of obsession wrapped in the enigmatic theft of a family's dog; and "A Quiet Night," in which a couple deals with noisy upstairs neighbors until the woman starts suspecting her husband is behind the neighbors' run of misfortune. Dark, strange, and simultaneously cohesive and diverse, these stories show a superb writer in full force.