Ha Seong-nan is a master of what I like to think of as the “Whoa, wait a minute” short story. Bluebeard’s First Wife, the South Korean’s second collection translated to English by Janet Hong, comprises stories that are practically identical in length at around 20 pages, and in contrast to the mist and fog shrouding several of them, there’s a lot of dry description to pass the time; her language is thoroughly uncluttered, unyieldingly matter-of-fact. Then, suddenly, something alarming emerges from the smirr to throw the rest of the story into sharp relief; sometimes it’s an actual burst of gunfire, others a pithy backstory. The effect on the reader is dizzying, a long lull and a short shake of the brain that’ll have you re-reading sentences, paragraphs, pages. Though clever wordplay and linguistic verve aren’t her focus, an exacting style allows room for Ha to prioritize plot and her social commentary on gender dynamics and Korean cultural constraints. The shroud is the palette that gives way to the education.