Catherynne Valente’s The Melancholy of Mechagirl compiles Valente’s poetry and short fiction tied to Japan and Japanese culture. As Teruyuki Hashimoto points out in the collection’s introduction, however, many of these connections to Japan are subtle, even tenuous; instead (or perhaps in addition), we find the pieces united by recurring images and themes. Houses and families, as Hashimoto points out, weave their way through the text, and so too do the subjects of birth, isolation, and creeping uncanniness.
Melancholy could have easily fallen into appropriative narrative or become what Valente herself describes as culturally “fraught.” However, Valente continues to write with grace and cognizance. Her afterword on the matter (echoed to some degree on her blog, here) explains her interest in Japan as a matter beyond scholastics or fan culture; she lived alone there for some time, and the experience affected her to the point that, as she says, “Japan is everywhere in my work.” The collection’s thematic elements build upon one another as the reader progresses, but they’re brought into stark focus with the addition of her autobiographical note. The book itself is full and rich in the author’s characteristic style, but this time, it feels personal—in the best possible way.