She got to the parking lot earlier than usual. [First Sentence]
Out by Natsuo Kirino
Translated by Stephen Snyder
Crime Fiction (S/T); 400 pgs
From the Publisher:
Nothing in Japanese literature prepares us for the stark, tension-filled, plot-driven realism of Natsuo Kirino’s award-winning literary mystery Out.Out is one of those novels that I find difficult to review, if only because I have a hard time putting into words why I liked this book so much. It was dark and real. The characters got under my skin (most of them, anyway), and I carried them with me even when I was not reading.
This mesmerizing novel tells the story of a brutal murder in the staid Tokyo suburbs, as a young mother who works the night shift making boxed lunches strangles her abusive husband and then seeks the help of her coworkers to dispose of the body and cover up her crime. The coolly intelligent Masako emerges as the plot’s ringleader, but quickly discovers that this killing is merely the beginning, as it leads to a terrifying foray into the violent underbelly of Japanese society.
At once a masterpiece of literary suspense and pitch-black comedy of gender warfare, Out is also a moving evocation of the pressures and prejudices that drive women to extreme deeds, and the friendships that bolster them in the aftermath.
Masako stands out the most among the characters. She is a leader of sorts; the one everyone turns to when things go wrong or they need help. She is in her 40’s, stuck in a marriage that has lost its luster and is raising a son who won’t talk to her. She does not have to work at the factory, but after being burned at her former job and wanting to do something, anything, she sticks with it, despite the harsh night hours and the poor working conditions. She seems to find comfort at work and in her friendships with her workmates.
Yayoi is in an abusive relationship and trying to raise two young children while her husband gambles away their savings. It is all Yayoi can do to make ends meet. Then there is Yoshie whose strong work ethic and diligence has kept her going as she struggles to pay the bills, raise a teenage daughter and care for an elderly, not so nice mother-in-law.
Kuniko, probably my least favorite of the four characters and yet one of the more complex ones, rounds out the foursome of women who are the backbone of the novel. Kuniko is young and naïve. She spends more than she can afford, borrows money she cannot pay back, and longs to be accepted and liked. She struggles with others as much as she struggles with herself.
There is also Satake, a club owner whose sexual appetite runs to the morbid side. He’s struggling hard to maintain his self-control and out run his past, trying to establish himself as a respectable business man.
My favorite of the male characters Kazuo—a lonely soul who only wants to be accepted and loved. He is a foreigner in his father’s homeland, struggling to fit in and make a living. There is an innocence about him that makes him endearing after awhile, despite his initial introduction in the book, which is less than flattering.
Desperation drips off the four female protagonists and several of Natsuo Kirino’s other characters. Each of the characters is battered and weary. They all have had difficult lives and are struggling to survive in their own ways. Some desire money and acceptance while others simply want to be free of the invisible shackles that bind them to their lives.
The women’s actions set off a chain of events that grow more dangerous and complicated as time goes on. Each one is tested, and they are forced to take a hard look at themselves and the direction their lives have taken. The author did a good job of painting the desperation and pain of the characters. There was a dreariness that hung above the characters like a constant storm cloud, capturing the mood and atmosphere of the book perfectly.
Out is not only a suspense ridden thriller but also a harsh study of human nature. The story is as complex as the characters. I look forward to reading more by Natsuo Kirino.
Rating: (Very Good)
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